In a huge blow to India’s campaign at the Asian Games 2018, veteran tennis star Leander Paes has pulled out of the event beginning Saturday in Indonesia. It is believed that Paes was miffed at not getting a “specialist” men’s doubles partner for the 18th edition of the Asian Games.
Paes was asked to team up with struggling singles player Sumit Nagal after All India Tennis Association (AITA) agreed to pair country’s top doubles players Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan in the men’s doubles, on their request.
The 45-year-old Indian, a winner of 18 Grand Slams, was already miffed at his exclusion from TOP Scheme but had made himself available for the Asian Games, where he has won eight medals, including five gold.
“It is with a heavy heart that I have to say that I will not be playing the upcoming Asian Games in Indonesia,” Paes said in a statement.
“Despite my repeated requests, from so many weeks in advance, it is sad that we have not been able to put a doubles specialist in the team for a credible second doubles pairing for the Asian Games,” he added.
With Sharan and Bopanna deciding to play together, Zeeshan Ali, the captain and coach of the men’s team, had no choice but to pair Paes with Nagal or Ramkumar Ramanathan.
While Ramkumar is primarily a singles player and plays doubles occasionally, Nagal is in terrible form. He has lost nine straight first-round matches on the Pro circuit, coming into the Asian Games.
In his statement, Paes also questioned why AITA didn’t field two specialist doubles teams. “Ramkumar Ramanathan is a very good player, and I would love to play doubles with him. But considering that he has a golden chance to win the singles medal, it is not fair to distract him from his best event,” he said.
“Our doubles specialists like 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,” he added.
Paes, who was to return to the Games after missing the previous two editions, however, said his absence would not adversely affect India’s chances.
“Rather than affecting the team’s chances, I believe that my absence would only help the rest to play more events, be it doubles or mixed doubles. I have been in constant touch with Captain Zeeshan Ali and have had long discussions with him with regard to Rohan Bopanna’s injury.
“I am happy to learn that Rohan has recovered and as such a doubles medal for India is almost assured. Without his availability, it wouldn’t have been fair for me to withdraw as that may have impacted a possible gold from tennis,” he added.
(With PTI inputs)