Storm in a te(a)nnis cup
Indiaís performance in Wimbledon will decide whether the recent controversy about its Olympics selection was justified or not

M. S. Unnikrishnan

The selection row surrounding the Indian tennis team for the London Olympics will unfold in all its intensity only after the Wimbledon Championship. Many claims and counter claims will be pressed, depending on the performances of the star players, who have challenged the All India Tennis Association (AITA), for the manner in which the association selected the combinations of teams for the Olympics.

Mahesh Bhupathi (left) and Rohan Bopanna
Mahesh Bhupathi (left) and Rohan Bopanna Photo: AFP

Ego clashes and personal interests were at play in the team selection controversy. Sania Mirza openly criticisea the AITA for forcing her to partner Leander Paes in the mixed doubles, after getting a wild card for the Olympics. She conveniently forgot the fact that she, along with Rushmi Chakarvarty and Somdev Varman, got the wild cards, only because of the good equation of the AITA with the International Tennis Federation (ITF). Also the persistent efforts by AITA president Anil Khanna had resulted in these wild cards. This will enable the country to field seven tennis players in the Olympics, which will be a record.

A few years ago; Sania had openly announced that she will not play in any events in India, when criticism had mounted against her for various commissions and omissions, including an alleged incident of disrespect to the national flag. Yet, the AITA went out of its way to include her in the Indian team. She has even questioned Leanderís reluctance to pair up with Vishnu Vardhan, though it should not have been none of her business, since Vishnu himself has not said anything.

Things would not have turned out like this, had the players accepted the original team picked by the AITA óLeander and Mahesh Bhupathi for the menís doubles and Mahesh and Sania for the mixed doubles. But Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna refused to partner Leander in the menís doubles. They also put political pressure on the AITA, when they wrote letters to Sports Minister Ajay Maken and External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna to intervene.

The AITA could not have gone against the wishes of its life president Krishna, whose political interest warranted that Mahesh and Bopanna, who belong to his state of Karnataka, play as a team in the Olympics.

Even Vishnu Vardhan got the nod, not because he was a promising player, but because he was employed with the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, one of the strong backers of the tennis team.

The performances in Wimbledon, therefore, will be decisive for many reasons. Though there is not much scope for any alteration in the Olympic combination, as Indian Olympic Association secretary-general Randhir Singh has said that any alternations in the team could be effected only with the concurrence of the apex Olympic body.

So, the present calm beneath the storm may be deceptive, though the AITA alone should not be blamed for all that has gone wrong, as the players were equally guilty and had acted irresponsibly.