India’s top woman tennis player, Sania Mirza, blasted the national federation for using her as “bait” while working out a compromise during an ongoing row over team selection for the Olympics.
Mirza said in a statement late Tuesday that her interests were ignored in a bid to pacify the country’s top-ranked doubles player Leander Paes, who had threatened to pull out of the London contingent after being paired with little known Vishnu Vardhan.
Paes was asked to partner Vardhan after Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna insisted on playing together and refused to partner Paes in London.
The All India Tennis Association tried to pacify Paes by naming him to the mixed doubles team with Mirza, even though she and Bhupathi won the French Open this month.
“As an Indian woman belonging to the 21st century, what I find disillusioning is the humiliating manner in which I was put up as bait to try and pacify one of the disgruntled stalwarts of Indian tennis,” Mirza said in the statement after she was assured of playing mixed doubles when she secured a wild card in the women’s doubles.
“While I feel honoured and privileged to have been chosen to partner Leander, the manner and timing of the announcement reeks of male chauvinism where a two-time Grand Slam champion, who has been India’s No. 1 women’s tennis player for almost a decade in singles and doubles is offered in compensation to partner one of the feuding champions in order to lure him into accepting to play with a men’s player he does not wish to play with!”
Bhupathi and Bopanna also lamented the situation on Wednesday, but said they took a “very hard stance” in order to give India the best chance for a medal. Bhupathi also criticized the AITA for creating a situation that was “unfortunate” and “ugly” and said he felt sorry for Mirza.
“Things couldn’t have got uglier for us in Indian tennis the last week,” Bhupathi said after he and Bopanna won their first-round match at Wimbledon. “It’s an unbelievable situation they have put her in, and I obviously sympathize with Sania. I feel for her in her letter.”
Bhupathi and Mirza are playing together at Wimbledon and he said he still hopes they will be paired together at the Olympics as well.
“They (AITA) have to kind of worry about if they want to win a medal for the country or, as she said, keep one player happy,” he said.
Mirza said that as the country’s only female Grand Slam champion, “I believe I can expect a little more respect from the national tennis federation.”
In response to Mirza, AITA said the team was selected on merit and that players should concentrate on doing well at the Olympics.
“We earnestly appeal to all the players to unite together, shed off all their differences, stop going public and join hands together in the best national interest of winning medals for the country and bring glory to the nation,” AITA secretary-general Bharat Oza said in a statement.
India is sending its largest ever tennis contingent to the Olympics with seven players. Apart from the two men’s doubles pairs and the mixed doubles, Mirza and Rushmi Chakravarthi will play in women’s doubles, while Somdev Devvarman will play in men’s singles after receiving a wild card.
Following the controversial selection process, Bhupathi said he wasn’t sure what AITA should have done differently.
“It’s not our job to advise these people. What’s done is done,” he said. “It was unfortunate and it was ugly, but, I think from our point of view, we just want to focus on Wimbledon now. We’re not just dwelling on the past.”