WHEN ROGER FEDERER won the doubles gold medal with Stanislas Wawrinka in the Beijing Olympics, he shed tears. It prompted IOC President Jacques Rogge to state that it was the most memorable moment of the entire Olympics to see a teary-eyed Federer receive the medal.
"I have many, but there is one moment that I will never forget and that is the tears of joy of Roger Federer winning the gold medal for the doubles. Here you have the man who is arguably together with Sampras, the best ever tennis player in the world. He has won everything but the elusive gold medal he did not have"
Add to this what Andre Agassi said after winning the men's singles at the Atlanta Games:
“To win a Grand Slam is the greatest thing in the sport, but to win an Olympics is the biggest thing you can do in all sports.”
The Atlanta Olympics is special to India and its sports fans because the bronze won by Leander Paes 20 years ago is our only medal in tennis, despite having world-beaters in the doubles format since then. The joy of an Indian winning an individual medal in a sport dominated by players from across the world gave hope to a lot of our sportspersons. The hopes only rose when both Leander and Mahesh Bhupathi, and then Saina Mirza and Rohan Bopanna started winning big on the doubles circuit and Indians thought it was just a matter of time we would strike gold.
But it has been two decades and the story remains the same. These stars now shine on the ATP and WTA tours with partners from other countries, but when it comes to India the best they can bring on court is a slanging match. The latest set was played out over the last few days and was decided in a tie-breaker today by the national body, the All India Tennis Association, who has dictated to Bopanna that he has to take Paes to Rio with him. Though Bopanna would have liked to have partnered lower-ranked Saketh Myneni as he had indicated to AITA, he will now have to get on court with Paes in an attempt to what they would state as "bringing pride to the country".
Do we need this medal that they might bring us? Will we be proud of this medal? After subjecting Indians to a public drama every time they have to represent the country, we don't want Paes, Bhupathi, Bopanna, and Mirza to represent India in international events. Anyways they have not been bringing us any glory so it might be better to give promising youngsters a chance to experience the big stage. At least we won't have to cringe every time these stars put up embarrassing acts unworthy of champions.
And it is only when the country is involved that they spar with each other. They have no qualms when playing and travelling together and striking great bonhomie when they play for Bhupathi's International Premier Tennis League (IPTL).
We bring Bhupathi into this equation because he is a prominent player behind the scenes and everyone is aware that Bopanna and Mirza are aligned to his camp. In the earlier public spats, he has been directly involved, but this time his rankings did not provide him a chance to be in the reckoning for a ticket to Rio, though he tried hard. No prizes for guessing that he would have been Bopanna's first choice if he had managed to rake in few points. It is no secret that there are two camps in Indian tennis and each one will try their best to pull down the other as and when possible, and we have to each time silently suffer this indignity as a nation.
Consider Bopanna's statement explaining why he chose Myneni over Paes:
“I have chosen Saketh based on a careful weighing of whose game will complement mine at Rio, given my own skills, strengths and weaknesses. As you will see from my track record, I have consistently had success with partners who have big weapons, a serve, a forehand. In that sense, the ranking of the player in doubles is far less important than what he brings to the partnership. I have played with over 70 partners in my career and that has given me the ability to gauge what type of player works well with me and what doesn’t.
I have much admiration for Leander Paes and his many achievements, but unfortunately we have not been able to put together a good combination despite our best efforts and I do not believe our styles of play are either compatible or complementary. Considering that this is a team event where two individuals need to gel together to do well, regardless of individual achievements, it is the team and the combination that matters.”
Since so much thought was given to the reasons he would prefer Myneni, Bopanna should be firm that he will not go to Rio unless he has the partner of his choice and should actually boycott the Games. That would be taking a stand. It would show that he was concerned about winning a medal for the country and had therefore analysed who would be best as a partner. Now, after providing all the reasons why he should play with Myneni, he is willing to partner Paes with whom he is sure he will not "gel" well. Any other self-respecting sportsperson would have politely declined.
The AITA decision would not have come as a surprise and Bopanna would have been ready with the action he would take once Paes' name was announced. Knowing the politics in play in the system, he would have always known that Paes would be preferred. In such a scenario, he should never have suggested Myneni's name knowing very well that it would be rejected. In fact, if he had been advised correctly, he could have taken the high ground by choosing Paes. An astute action like that, when everyone knows about the rivalry between the two, would have helped Bopanna tremendously on the perception front.
If the pair then went on to win a medal, the country would have cried with them in joy. Now, even if they manage to put aside off-court differences on the court and reach the podium, rest assured that the tears they shed will be those of grief for helping their compatriot winning an Olympic medal.