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Asian Games 2018

Indian Tennis without Leander Paes had a point to prove

Indian Tennis without Leander Paes had a point to prove
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Published: 24 Aug 2018 1:04 PM GMT
Trouble begins to arise the minute a single player decides that he is more than a sport. At that moment, his contributions, his legendary status- all of these other external factors seem as inconsequential as they can be. The minute a player decides that their ego is of greater importance than national pride, that's when the trouble begins. In the case of the Indian Tennis contingent, they came face to face with a challenging situation after an experienced player like Leander Paes decided to drop out in the final few days leading up to the Asian Games. What made matters worse was the fact that the Indian team were already sending in a highly depleted squad to Jakarta. Yuki Bhambri, a player few would argue about being a medal prospect, decided to sit the tournament out after citing preparation for the US Open as the reason. His declarations soon brought back the country vs self debate as it so often has when it comes to sports. The outrage caused by Bhambri's announcement quickly died down once a bigger one began. Reportedly infuriated with the fact that a Doubles Specialist had not been allocated for him, Lender Paes felt it prudent to bow out instead of teaming up with an out-of-form Nagal. Problems with the selections are nothing out of place. The run-up in India to the current Asian Games has been anything but smooth. There have been ten court cases involving various Federations and, of course, the villain among them all- the Indian Olympic Association. Some may have been unfounded while others who were persistent enough to see their completions got the list of final, cleared athletes to accommodate them as well. In Paes' case, a last-minute pull-out, and a subsequent public spat with the IOA ensured that the All India Tennis Association were not left with sufficient time to hunt down a replacement for the veteran. It was then ruled that two predominantly Singles players, Ramkumar Ramanathan and Sumit Nagal, would be competing as the second Indian team in the Men's Doubles event, alongside the more seasoned pair of Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan. Maybe a medal was never in the cards here but was it right on Paes' part to wait until the dying seconds to announce the intention of not travelling to Jakarta? The Indian Tennis contingent had fissures that ran deep enough for people to notice. Captain and coach Zeeshan Ali continued to stress on how the loss of Paes would hit the squad both strategically and when it came to morale. Reports by journalists present in Jakarta also suggested a more profound fissure after news came out that no member of the tennis contingent attended matches involving their compatriots despite Zeeshan Ali urging them to step up and support the Indian team. At the end of it, however, what we were left with is three medals- two Bronzes and one Gold. The Gold incidentally came in the Men's Doubles category courtesy a hugely dominating display by Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan. This was India's fifth Gold in the event and only the second Men's Doubles medal that did not feature the contribution of Leander Paes in any way. A trip down memory lane and we see that the historic first Men's Doubles Asiad Gold was brought home in 1994 by Asian Games veteran Gaurav Natekar and his long-standing friend Paes. Paes went on to partner Mahesh Bhupathi to podium finishes in 2002 and 2006 while the last medal came eight years back with Somdev Devvarman partnering Sanam Singh to finish at the top. In 2010, Devvarman had also won the Men's Singles gold in a scenario that perfectly describes his versatility. Over the decades, Indian sport has produced some beautiful legends across various fields. Their exemplary achievements have cemented their status as role models and, more importantly, have helped encourage their respective sports. Glory, at any significant level, often does that. Abhinav Bindra's Gold brought forth more shooters in the fray. PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal ensured that the popularity of Badminton does not die down anytime soon. For tennis aficionados, Paes was such a hero. Being associated with a sport for as long as he has been, the inevitable moment when the next generation would be taking over from him was a prospect to be both dreaded and looked forward to. But did it need to happen on this sour a note? Over-dependance on one player is usually a situation best avoided in sports. In the better interests of Indian Tennis, we can safely say that Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan winning the Gold was the best case scenario that could have been hoped for- especially when you keep in mind that Bopanna, a veteran of the sport in his own right, is just coming from an injury lay-off. Divij Sharan had already won an Asiad medal once before when he partnered with yet another predominantly singles player Yuki Bhambri in 2014. This was Bopanna's first medal at the Asian Games. If ever there is a point that the Coorg-born tennis player had to prove, it could not have come at a better time for Indian tennis.
Also read: Asian Games 2018: Tricky situations await Indian Tennis Team
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