Jakarta: Long before he approached twilight of his career, Leander Paes was already a legend, but his tantrums have always given much fodder for critics to talk about, and it is no different this time but for a different reason.
Just as murmurs had started about his absence in Palembang while most of the Indian tennis team had reached Palembang, the Island city that is hosting part of the Asian Games with Jakarta, Paes announced he was pulling out from the Games.
Paes, who last played in Asian Games in Doha 2006 and won two gold medals, stated in a letter on Thursday to the All India Tennis Association (AITA) that he was taking the decision with “heavy heart”.
The 45-year-old said he had long discussions with Coach and captain Zeeshan Ali over the last few weeks, but he felt he was left as the odd man among three doubles specialists in the team, once Rohan Bopanna decided to partner Divij Sharan.
He had apparently made repeated requests to get one of the doubles specialists from among Sriram Balaji, Vishnu Vardhan, Purav Raja or Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan drafted into the team, but finally realized that it was futile making the numbers.
“Our doubles specialists Sriram Balaji, Vishnu Vardhan, Purav Raja and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan have been doing exceptionally well this season and one of them definitely deserved to strengthen the Asian Games squad,’’ Leander wrote.
Three singles specialists did not make sense, as the current edition of the Asian Games does not have team events, and only two singles players can be fielded by a team.
Thus, Sumit Nagal, the Asian Indoor Games champion may not get a chance to compete in singles, as Ramkumar Ramanathan and Prajnesh Gunneswaran have been playing exceptionally well.
There was a thought that Ramkumar could team up with Leander for doubles, but the Atlanta Olympics bronze medallist, who was with Ramkumar when he made the Newport singles final, was categorical that the young man deserved to focus on the best medal in singles.
Leander said that he was relieved to find that Rohan Bopanna had recovered from his injury and had reached Palembang for the Asian Games.
Paes had grabbed headlines two years ago before the start of Rio Olympic Games when he insisted on playing doubles with Rohan Bopanna, who had qualified in merit and had freedom to choose partner, but his decision was vetoed out.
Indian tennis team AT ASIAD
When the All India Tennis Association (AITA) cleared Paes and Bopanna to play doubles, the pair fizzled out in early round, which clearly showed neither of them were really interested in partnering each other—Paes just wanted to complete seventh Olympics, which is a record for any Indian sportsperson.
Meanwhile, Bopanna, who decided to skip US Open to be at Asian Games is back and fit having recovered from a shoulder injury. The big-serving Indian arrived with Sharan and the women’s squad comprising debutants Ankita Raina and Karman Kaur Thandi, besides doubles specialist Prarthana Thombare, who won a bronze alongside Sania Mirza in Incheon four years ago.
I would love to play doubles with Ramkumar, but considering that he has a golden chance to win the singles medal, it is not fair to distract him.
– Leander Paes