Two stalwarts had their way; two others didn’t, but the ‘good news’ is that the warring parties have decided to keep their egos and differences aside for — well, you know it — the “sake of the country”.
The All India Tennis Association (AITA) proved, for the umpteenth time, that it is as inept as the International Cricket Council vis-a-vis the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Anil Khanna and his colleagues wilted under player pressure, thereby setting a wrong and needless precedent. But the dust has settled and the cameras, thankfully, are back on the field.
So what are India’s chances at the London Olympics, you’d wonder. Bickering notwithstanding, the six-member Indian contingent has a decent chance to add to Leander Paes’s Atlanta Olympics bronze.
Somdev Devvarman (singles), Mahesh Bhupathi/Rohan Bopanna and Leander Paes/Vishnu Vardhan (men’s doubles), Sania Mirza/Rushmi Chakravarthi (women’s doubles) and Paes/Mirza (mixed doubles) are the best players India could have fielded on the hallowed lawns of the All England Club.
Devvarman, the country’s best singles player by some distance, will participate in the 64-player competition. The blemish, though, is that the 27-year-old, who was laid low by injury, has not played big-ticket tennis in months. “I know for a fact that Somdev is physically fit. But then again, he would love to get match fit. He may play a tournament ahead of the Olympics,” senior pro Bhupathi says. Devvarman can choose from a list of nine tournaments on the ATP calendar, but the catch is that only one of them — Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, USA (July 9-15) — is a grasscourt event.
Talk about the doubles teams and Bhupathi sounds surprisingly cautious. “Rohan and I are regular doubles partners but we are not the only ones out there. You have the Bryan brothers, the Murray brothers, then there’s Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares (Brazil), Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski (Poland). There are quite a few of them,” he points out. “But yes, we know what we are capable of.” That’s more like it.
They may have failed to make the last eight at Wimbledon, but Bhupathi isn’t too worried. “We still have time to prepare for the Games. We’ll play another tournament and focus on training,” he says.
And what about the ‘other’ team? “Vishnu is a good player. He’s someone who’s got a big serve. And the fact that he is a relatively unknown quantity will work in his favour. Leander is, of course, super quick at the net. I am sure they will make a good pair,” he adds. Let’s hope they do. And let’s also hope Paes buys Vardhan a decent pair of grasscourt shoes. That’s the least he can do to motivate his inexperienced partner.
Talk of their medal chances and the realist in Bhupathi comes to the fore. “We don’t even know who we are going to face in the first round. How can I start thinking of the gold medal match?”
Let’s face it. Paes had a slightly raw deal. But then, what choice do you have when the others call you a “backstabber” and what not! Someone had to be on the losing side. But now that Bhupathi and Bopanna have won the off-field battle, they better channel their energies towards winning India a medal.
Mirza and Chakravarthi are bound to find the going tough. Mirza has had a reasonably successful year on Tour, while Chakravarthi, ranked 472, has only made news on the ITF circuit. “They won the bronze medal at the CWG (New Delhi 2010), but things will be tougher at the Olympics,” Bhupathi says.
Mirza will join hands with Paes in the mixed doubles competition. The glamorous event has been included in the Olympics for the first time since 1924. Entries for the 16-team event will be determined on site from those players already participating in singles or doubles. “I reckon the mixed doubles competition is going to be the toughest. We’ll see 16 very good teams. Serena Williams/Bob Bryan, Petra Kvitova/Tomas Berdych, it’s going to be tough out there. But Sania and Leander have won an Asiad gold. They will do well,” Bhupathi adds.
How well? Only time will tell.