Rio de Janeiro: Leander Paes must be in seventh heaven. Arriving in Rio to play his seventh Olympics at the age of 43, puts him in a different league. Also he is aware that in all probability, it will be the last opportunity for him to add to his 1996 Atlanta Olympics bronze.
Soon after checking in at the Olympic Village, Paes left for a practice session with his partner Rohan Bopanna on Thursday evening. More than the practice, he probably was trying to prove a point to the media. Paes has been criticised for not being in Rio along with other team members a week ago.
“Look, we all knew about our schedule. We discussed all that with coach Zeeshan Ali during Davis Cup tie in Chandigarh last month. He (Ali) was well aware that I was playing World Team event and only be here after that. So the issue of my being here should not have been raised,” Paes said on Friday.
Paes and Bopanna played together only once — in June during Davis Cup tie, which they won in straight sets.
“What is more important to play or to practice?” asked Paes
The Atlanta Olympics bronze medallist was playing in World Team Tennis for Washington Castles before arriving in Brazil.
“Obviously, to play… I was playing and winning so I was not here to practice. And they (Bopanna or other India players) came early because they lost early. It was certainly not because they were here to play together. Anyway, I just want to focus on the job I’m here for. I have given my sweat for India in last 28 years and I don’t need to prove it to anyone,” was how Paes explained his absence.
Bopanna has been in Rio for last one week and has been practising with Sania Mirza for mixed doubles. He was partnering Jean-Julien Rojer in the Toronto Masters prior to that and lost in the round of 16.
The All India Tennis Association (AITA) used its discretion to pair up Paes with Bopanna, terming it the “best choice”, even though Bopanna preferred Saketh Myneni as his partner.
Both Bopanna and Paes said that the chances of winning medal in men’s doubles is extremely difficult after looking at the draw.
“We’re up against Polish pair of Lukasz Kubot-Marcin Matkowski in the first round and they are extremely difficult pair as both have been playing together for a long time. They are difficult because they can play very bad on one day and can be at top of their game the other day. So, it’s tricky draw for us but we have to be positive and play our best,” said Paes.
Ali expressed his satisfaction over Paes’s arrival and said that “being professional players on the tour, both these players know handling controversies and pressures alike”.
“Look, I was worried because I heard that Paes will be reaching here on Thursday night. Which would have meant that he would have one practice session on Friday before the first round. But as he arrived a bit early and took part in practice session last evening, I think that must have given a lot of confidence to both players,” said Ali.
No room for Paes
Paes, on his arrival at the Games Village, had to go through discomfort as there was no room allotted to him. He had to use chef-de-mission Rakesh Gupta’s room to change as he had to rush for practice session.
“I am slightly disappointed that having played six Olympics for India, I haven’t been given a place to stay. I was playing a tournament in New York and took the first flight on its completion. The match got over at eight and I took a 10.45 flight to Rio,” Paes said.
The three rooms that were assigned in the apartment given to Indian players, one is for Ali and the other two are for Bopanna and team physio.
Later when he returned from practise he found out that a single room had been allotted to him.