While Sania Mirza had lashed out at being used as a “bait” for a disappointed tennis player (Leander Paes) ahead of the 2012 London Games, and had to take the field with the Kolkata star despite wanting to partner Mahesh Bhupathi.
Then for 2016 Summer Games saw Mirza play with Rohan Bopanna, a move that visibly upset Paes. However, India came close to win a medal in Rio when both Sania and Bopanna made to semis and also played bronze the medal match and finished fourth.
The veteran, then, had been vocal about not getting a chance to represent the country in the mixed doubles event, and believed that Mirza should have partnered him instead at Rio. The Hyderabadi had taken an indirect dig at Paes, calling him a “toxic” person, which received wide criticism.
However, it appears that controversy might elude India this time around as the nation might not be able to field a mixed doubles pair in Tokyo after all.
Thirty-two teams are eligible to play in the men’s doubles and the women’s doubles categories in the Olympics, from which the mixed doubles teams are chosen. A spot in the top 10 earns a direct spot for the doubles event, with the remaining teams being picked according to the combined rankings of the two players. No quota spots are available for mixed doubles, as the teams have to consist of players who have already qualified for the singles or doubles.
The sixteen best ranked teams are, then, chosen for the mixed doubles competition. As things stand currently, Tata Open Maharastra was the only title Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan won as a pair last year. Considering they are the defending champions, failing to defend points in a “home stretch” of Tokyo Olympics Qualification phase will push their ranking further from 41 to 45 for Bopanna and 55 to 65 for Sharan which makes it difficult to qualify.
While Sharan and his partner A Sitak lost to Paes and M Ebden 2-6, 6-7, Bopanna and A Kadhe went down to A Hoang and B Paire 6-3, 5-7, 7-10 in the round of sixteen at Tata Open Maharastra.
With Mirza ranked a lowly 252 in the WTP rankings and Paes at 117, the chances of them getting an automatic berth for Tokyo looks far from possible.
However, it must be noted that while a special ranking of nine guarantees Mirza an entry into women’s doubles in Tokyo, it does not guarantee her an entry into the mixed doubles. For mixed doubles, qualification is based on the combined rankings of both players.
Currently, the highest-ranked Indian male player is Rohan Bopanna at 45, which would give the Rohan/Sania pair a combined ranking of 54 (45 for Rohan + special ranking of nine for Mirza) which may not be enough. Most likely, Bopanna (or one of our other doubles players for that matter) will need to get their ranking into the top twenty five.
While Bopanna can still stand a chance to play in the doubles event if he pitches in with a few good showings in the remaining tournaments till the cut-off date, it looks tough to have an Indian pair in the mixed doubles pair that will have a combined ranking to be among the world’s best sixteen.