Rio de Janeiro: A fair share of controversies rattled Indian tennis in the run-up to the Olympics with Leander Paes in the middle of storm but it also carries the country’s medal hopes from the mixed doubles pairing of Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna when the event gets underway in the 31st Olympics Games here on Saturday.
A potential pre-London Olympics-like drama was nipped in the bud in the run-up to Rio Games but speculation of rift between Paes and his men’s doubles partner Rohan Bopanna is doing the rounds here. Bopanna had earlier expressed his preference to partner lower ranked Saketh Myneni instead of Paes before All India Tennis Association intervened in the matter, and speculation here is that Paes refused to share a room with him at the Games Village.
Paes, who will be playing in his seventh straight Olympics, a first in tennis, checked in at the Games Village on the eve of the opening ceremony. He arrived late and was left high and dry with no room allotted to him before finally being given a room Thursday evening. India’s Chef-de-Mission Rakesh Gupta clarified that Paes was always going to stay alone.
“He (Paes) was given a room and there’s no controversy at all. For a legend like him, Paes deserved a separate room for himself,” Gupta said, explaining that the Indian ace was playing a tournament in New York and hence the delay.
With Paes arriving late, Bopanna had to make arrangement for practice with Serbia’s Nenad Zimonjic. He also teamed up with Sania Mirza while coach Zeeshan Ali paired up with the other women’s doubles player Pratharna Thombare, who is in her maiden Olympics, during practice. Indian tennis has had little success in Olympics till Paes took a bronze medal in Atlanta 1996 and since then they have been struggling at the biggest sporting stage. Clearly, Paes and Bopanna lacked match practice together.
They last played in India’s Davis Cup match against Korea in Chandigarh last month, and it will have to be seen how much impact they make in the men’s doubles. Moreover, they have different playing styles. The Indian duo are pitted against the Polish pair of Marcin Matkowski and Lukas Kubot in the opening round tomorrow. Paes has now slipped out of top 50 in the men’s doubles rankings and the Indian doubles team is ranked 15th in the world.
As such, it will be in the mixed doubles pairing of Sania and Bopanna where all the Indians will be glued to for any chance of a medal. In the women’s doubles, world number one Sania Mirza and Prarthana Thombare will take on Chinese pair of Peng Shuai and Shuai Zhang in the first round.