India’s top tennis doubles player will team up with a poorly-rated and inexperienced partner at the Olympics after two higher-ranked players refused to play with him, officials said on Thursday.
Leander Paes, ranked seventh in the world as a doubles player, will be paired with 207th-ranked Vishnu Vardhan, the All India Tennis Association (AITA) announced following days of arguments in which even the government tried to intervene.
Both Rohan Bopanna (ranked 13) and Mahesh Bhupathi (15) said they would not play with Paes for a range of personal and professional reasons, including, Bhupathi said, that he was not trustworthy.
Paes and Bhupathi formed a long-standing and highly successful team for years, winning Grand Slam doubles titles at the French Open in 1999 and 2001, and Wimbledon in 1999.
The duo, who have represented India in the doubles at four Olympics, broke up as a full-time pair in 2002, but continued to team up for India in the Davis Cup and multi-sports events such as the Olympics.
Bhupathi and Bopanna started playing together at the start of the year and will now be India’s second pair at London 2012.
“The events of the last few days have been extremely challenging,” the two said in a joint statement.
“Our sole focus is now on our team’s preparations for the Games.”
The selection row was sparked last week when the AITA said that a reluctant Bhupathi must play with Paes at the Olympics. Bhupathi refused, saying he did not trust Paes, and when Bopanna was tapped for the spot he also rejected the offer.
Paes then threatened to pull out of the tournament if he was forced to play with a lower-ranked player.
Paes gave no immediate reaction to being teamed up with Vardhan.
“This decision may not be fair but it is the best possible in the given circumstances. It is in the best interest of the nation,” AITA president Anil Khanna said.
“The selection process was tough. We have selected the best possible teams.
We had to keep all the players happy and send the best possible contingent.
“We respect Leander but we equally respect Bhupathi. We expect all players to gracefully accept our decision.”
Foreign Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and Sports Minister Ajay Maken had both added their voices to the selection dilemma, calling for a solution to be found to end the public dispute.