Leander Paes: I deserve a shot at Rio gold

PASSION: (From left) Mahesh Bhupati, Sania Mirza and Leander Paes
PASSION: (From left) Mahesh Bhupati, Sania Mirza and Leander Paes

Leander Paes, who is hoping there will not be another selection fiasco ahead of the Rio Olympics, feels he deserves to be paired with Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza for the men’s and mixed doubles events.

Recalling the drama ahead of the 2012 London Olympics when Bopanna and Mahesh Bhupathi refused to pair with him, Paes said dirty politics took place and it should not happen this time around.

“I hope that does not happen again. I believe selection should be on merit. To win three mixed doubles Grand Slams in 2015 leading to the Olympic year, I certainly hope that I am India’s front-runner in Rio,” Paes said before this week’s Chennai Open.

“In the men’s doubles I believe the best team is Rohan and myself, and likewise in mixed doubles it is Sania and myself. The fact is that neither has made any of the finals in mixed doubles in 2015.

“That being said, having won nine mixed doubles both on the deuce court and Ad-court, I have won on both sides. Also remember that we have won an Asian Games medal together,” 43-year-old Paes asserted.

Asked if he approached Bopanna for a partnership this season leading up to Games, Paes said he did.

“I had asked Rohan whether he would like to partner me in the Chennai Open and other tournaments. But, it seems he is set with his partnerships and he was not keen on my offer.

“I do feel it is important to play a few tournaments together in an Olympic year. I tried to do it in 2012 but unfortunately as that panned out, it was a complete shambles.”

Paes said he also spoke to Mirza for forging a mixed doubles partnership for the Rio Games.

“I have spoken with her a few times. Without a shadow of a doubt when one goes by merit, winning three Grand Slams leading to the Olympics kind of speaks for itself.”

However he clarified that he did not offer to play with Mirza on the Tour this season since he was not keen to break his successful pairing with Swiss legend Martina Hingis after they won three Grand Slam trophies in 2015.

“To win three Grand Slams out of four, you do not want to break that as it is not a bad achievement. Hence, Hingis is one of the greatest partners that I have had. She is one of the legends of the game and a great partner. So I am playing with her in the Aussie Open.

“I hope that another shambles in selection does not happen. I think by about March or April is when the nominations go in. Regardless of what happens in the Aussie, US and French Open’s this year, look at the number of Grand Slams that I have won. I have in all won 33. I should get a call.”

Asked what will he do if he does not get the combination of his choice, Paes replied: “I will continue my journey.”

“No one can take my history away. Do what you want, my journey is my journey. I respect tennis. I respect playing for India, the tri-colour flag, our people. My journey will remain mine no matter what other nonsense happens, it is for the people to answer.”

Paes said he has already spoken to AITA officials about Rio selection.

“I have had a couple of conversations with them already this year as far as the Rio Olympics go. I had made it clear that the mixed doubles is a real true chance of winning a medal for India, especially because of the hard court surface.

“If we are not given the chance for whatever non-sensical reason there is, unfortunately the people and the flag and the country lose out on winning a medal. If that farce is going to play out again, God help all of us.”

Paes though felt that there were indications that Bopanna and Mirza are planning to compete together.

“Such indications are always there. But at the end of the day all of us in sporting fraternity know what happened in 2012. At that time I felt that basically politics came in and played its part in a very dirty manner.

“That being said, it should not be there in sport. I know the people that were behind it and I am not going to name them.”

Paes asserted that age should not a criteria when it comes to selection.

“It is not about age. Age has nothing to do with it. Martina Navratilova and Martina Hingis are still playing. Navratilova won a Grand Slam when she was 49 years old. So age is not the criteria. It is about history, experience and form. In my opinion, the best team should be fielded and go forward.”

Paes also argued Mirza did not reach a Grand Slam mixed doubles final in 2015 while he won three with Hingis.

“Sania is number one in the world in women’s doubles. In mixed doubles she has not got into a final (in 2015). Let us be very clear on this. And I beat Rohan pretty convincingly at the US Open in mixed doubles and he was playing the ad side of the court.”

Paes also revealed he would not retire after Rio irrespective of the result.

“I would be lying to you if I said I won’t be tempted to retire if I win an Olympic medal at Rio. But also I will say that I work really hard on my fitness and on my mind, and to stop right in the middle of a season is not my style. I am very strong on my commitments.

“When I commit to my partner that I am playing the whole season, I will play the whole season barring injury. I am a man of my word.”