Choked with emotion after ending up far from his dream, Leander Paes turned the Olympics mixed zone into a crying arena by letting his emotions overflow like his energy on the tennis court. For over two hours, Paes and Vishnu Vardhan, who is ranked 304, put up a brave fight against the fancied French pair of Michael Llodra and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The seventh-seeded Indian duo, however, lost 6-7 (3), 6-4, 4-6 to the second seeds.
Considering the valiant effort by Paes and Vardhan against their formidable opponents, there is no doubt that India would have had a good shot at the medal if Bhupathi and he would have paired up, keeping their acrimony aside. Even having Rohan Bopanna as his partner would have given the Indians a healthy chance of winning a medal. But Bopanna and Bhupathi refused to partner Paes. The role of the All India Tennis Federation was also questionable in the controversy before the Olympics as it switched stands on numerous occasions under pressure from different camps and the sports ministry.
Paes is in no mood to bury the hatchet. In fact, he is all praise for newbie Vardhan, calling him the best ever partner in his 26-year career. “We played for the first time as a team and we played a hell of a match here,” said Paes and broke down while praising his rookie 25-year-old partner.
“I have tears in my eyes because I am emotional about it. It is pretty obvious to figure out what has been going around in the last two months. I am emotional about playing for my country, emotional about the people, emotional about this young kid Vishnu. We did something special and he got me to play with my heart,” the 13-time Grand Slam champion said.
Paes, 39, does not rule out participating in the next Olympics. “I have been doing this for the last 26 years and I am motivated to go for my seventh Olympics. I am motivated to work harder in the mixed doubles too and get a medal here,” he said.
The tennis veteran said it is a treat to see a new team being born. “I have been trying for a while and I think part of the association, part of the Indian tennis fraternity and part of the Indian sporting culture has to come together and nurture players like Somdev Devvarman, Yuki Bhambri, Sanam Singh and Vishnu,” he said. He deliberately did not mention Bopanna.
One wonders what happens to Bopanna now considering that Bhupathi has announced that he will soon bid adieu to Indian tennis. Whatever happens, one thing is certain – it will not be easy for young Indian players to stay away from camps in the coming years.