Explained: Why Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza are opposing AITA
Cooking up fresh controversy, Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza have slammed the AITA for confusing them and offering false hopes to Bopanna about Tokyo qualification.
Come every Olympic season for the past decade, at least, the Indian tennis camp inevitably cooks up some controversies. Therefore, without any surprise, in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics, things have escalated for the worse once again and have invited the wrath of veteran Indian tennis players Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza, who slammed the All India Tennis Association (AITA). Citing reasons of misleading them and not providing enough clarity, the AITA allegedly left Tokyo-hopeful and former Olympian, Rohan Bopanna, among others, lost in the murk about their qualification chances.
Rohan Bopanna, who has been looking forward to making the Tokyo cut for Men's Doubles with long-time partner Divij Sharan had kept a close tab on both the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and the AITA in relation to this. With only 32 playing spots available and given the fact that Bopanna and Sharan had a combined ranking of 113 - it was impossible to get a direct qualification entry.
Looking forward to withdrawals given the COVID-19 pandemic situation, Rohan Bopanna expected to head to the Tokyo Olympics, especially because the AITA encouraged this thought. In fact, AITA is still singing the same tune and assuring (falsely) about Bopanna having a chance still.
What's all the fuss about though?
Taking to Twitter to voice his anger and frustration at the AITA, Rohan Bopanna called out the Indian tennis authorities for fanning false hopes and leading him to believe that a Tokyo Olympics berth was still possible. Treating this in the most slipshod manner, the AITA, led by its Secretary General, Anil Dhupar, have been still admitting to chances of Rohan Bopanna making the cut for doubles when the ITF has barred any more entries, post 16th July, in the first place.
"(ITF) is updating us as and when there are withdrawals. Today should be the last day, they can still reach," Anil Dhupar told The Indian Express on Monday. "For Rohan, we've already got his accreditation, he only has to fly. We're just waiting for the ITF to say that he's qualified," he maintained on the same strain.
On the flip side, the ITF, to whom Rohan Bopanna had already mailed for clarification notified The Indian Express in another mail that, "I can confirm that 16 July was the last date on which new players could be brought into the event. Up until 16 July, changes could only be made to a doubles nomination through injury or illness," the ITF communications team starkly etched out.
Originally, it was the pair of Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan who wanted to enter the Men's Doubles event, a regular one for Indians since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. However, after 144th ranked Sumit Nagal earned his place in the singles draw of the event by virtue of being the top-ranked men's singles player in India, after mass-scale withdrawals took place, the AITA withdrew Divij Sharan's name and instead paired Bopanna with Nagal, apparently.
This is where it gets really messy - the ITF had clarified that they will not be accepting new nominations unless a player is ill or injured - therefore unlike the AITA's futile attempt to withdraw Sharan's name and shuffle it with Nagal, it was not to happen as no more doubles nominations were being taken.
"(On Sunday) I sent an email (to the ITF), and the reply clearly said that 'a change can only happen if a player is injured or due to illness… we are unable to change your doubles nominated pairing with Divij Sharan," Bopanna said to TIE.
From this, we understand that although the AITA is still mentioning that they have changed the nominations in the eleventh hour, the chance of Rohan Bopanna and Sumit Nagal making the doubles cut is also not promising, really, as much as the AITA would have us believe otherwise.
What's the qualification rule for the Olympics?
Let's get the basics straight before we head into the murky waters that Indian tennis is currently wading in. To make it to the Tokyo Olympics, players had to secure the berth by qualifying on the basis of their rankings within June 15, 2021, which was the closing window of Olympic qualifications for Tokyo.
Every nation is eligible for nominating a maximum of 12 players - divided equally between 6 men and 6 women. In the singles draw at the Olympics, there will be 64 players entering the first round with a maximum of 4 players in each category of men's and women's singles. However, direct qualifications only apply to the top 56 players on the ATP and WTA rankings as on the last date of the qualifying. So, 8 places now remain open and are fulfilled by a complicated process. The Final Qualification Places have 3 criteria to consider - i) Continental Quota ii) Gold Medallist/Grand Slam Champion and finally, iii) Host Nation Quota.
In the case of the doubles, it is relatively more simple. Every nation can enter a maximum of two teams in men's and women's doubles respectively. 31 direct entries are applicable and 1 spot is left empty for the host nation to fill. Players placed in the top 10 of the ATP and WTA rankings will gain direct entry and upon doing so, they will have to choose a player from their respective country who is within the ITF 300 rankings to pair with them.
AITA sacrificed a medal chance?
With practically nil chances of Rohan Bopanna heading to Tokyo anymore, the possibility of playing the Mixed Doubles alongside Sania Mirza is also absent now. The pair of Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna have been particularly successful on the Olympic circuit as the duo reached the semi-finals of the 2016 Rio Games and was within the reach of a rare medal. However, the American pair of Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram crushed their hopes and sent the Mirza-Bopanna pair bundling out after a three-set thriller.
Had Rohan Bopanna made the cut, he could have joined forces with 6-time Grand Slam champion Sania Mirza and together, they stood the most realistic chance in converting a medal in tennis. However, given the entire messy business going on with the AITA not acting appropriately and creating room for confusion, a chance at a medal is definitely lost now.
Controversy in the Indian tennis camp
When it comes to Indian tennis, there have been controversies circling it every Olympics almost and especially in the last 2 editions, matters have really been embarrassing.
2012 London Olympics
The selection process at the 2012 London Olympics was also incredibly messy with four big names doing the rounds - Sania Mirza, Rohan Bopanna, Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes. After Bhupathi refused to team up with Leander Paes owing to several ego battles and instead stuck to Bopanna, the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bronze medallist, Paes insisted on getting a written document from Sania Mirza mentioning that she will partner him for the Mixed Doubles.
This did not settle well with the 6-time Grand Slam champion who was in her peak form then and she lashed out both Mahesh Bhupathi (her usual doubles partner), Leander and Vece Paes.
"As an Indian woman belonging to the 21st century, what I find disillusioning is the humiliating manner in which I was put up as a bait to try and pacify one of the disgruntled stalwarts of Indian tennis," Sania Mirza had mentioned.
2016 Rio Olympics
In the run-up to the Rio Games, Rohan Bopanna had decided to avoid his senior colleague and instead had picked Saketh Myneni as his partner for the Olympics. However, the AITA did not approve of this as they couldn't leave out Leander Paes, obviously. As it is, a lot of friction exists between Bopanna and Paes and that has stirred up a lot of controversy.
At the 2012 London Olympics as well, Bopanna's reluctance to team up with Paes had led to the tennis veteran joining forces with the comparatively inexperienced Vishnu Vardhan, instead.