With the start of the torch relay, we can finally be rest assured that the Tokyo Olympics is happening this year. The sporting spectacle that was postponed for a year following the outbreak of coronavirus, will be staged in a span of four months. Indian sportspersons have already shifted their gears to make the most of the Olympics achieving targets that will be helpful for them at the Games or putting in their best efforts to make it into the contingent that will be going to Tokyo.
India will be looking forward to the event of tennis at the Olympics. However, plenty of permutation and combination is required for who will be taking part in the Olympics. While Sania Mirza's entry can be confirmed among the women representatives for the nation, it is yet to be seen who among the men will be taking part.
India's legendary tennis player Leander Paes, who was the first Indian to win an individual medal at the Olympics, has expressed his desire to take part in the Olympics for the eighth time in his career. Talking on the sidelines of the Tennis Premier League auction, Paes said he has started hard training focussing on the French Open, Wimbledon and the Tokyo Olympics to be held in July-August. "I am aware of the French Open, the Wimbledon, and also the Olympics. The three big ones in the near future and that's what I will be focusing on," he said. "I have always been a patriot and believe that the only best players should represent the country," the 47-year-old said while referring to the Olympics.
The veteran's statement could be suggestive of the fact that he is confident of playing at the Olympics and being the 'best' means the fact he has been one of the most successful tennis players in India. But how feasible it is for Leander to make it to Tokyo Olympics? It's not a new fact that the tennis entry for India in the Olympics have been marred with controversies and Leander Paes have been there before.
India's tennis medal hopes at the Rio Olympics was thrown into a tizzy when Leander went AWOL, two days before the start of the Games. The friction between Leander and his doubles partner Rohan Bopanna reached another level with the former Olympic medallist refusing to share a flat with Bopanna Rio Olympics village, according to reports. It was assumed that after Bopanna's request of wanting Saketh Myneni as his partner, it was shot down by AITA, that had sent Leander. Bopanna was given a condition to play in the mixed doubles event with Sania only if he plays the men's doubles event with Leander.
Can Leander Paes play at the Tokyo Olympics?
To analyse Paes' chance at the Olympics, we have to look at how one can qualify for the Olympics.
As always for India, all the focus is for the Olympics will be on the double's competitions in Men's, Women's or the Mixed category. The qualification criteria is a bit complicated for the double's events. The draw consisting of 32 teams will comprise teams consisting of players who are in the top 10 in the world. The next 14 slots are then allocated to the teams considering their combined doubles rankings. The remaining slots are allocated to the singles players who want to participate in doubles as well with one slot reserved for the hosts. The mixed doubles event does not have a qualification criterion, but the entrants should be participating in either one of the singles and doubles competitions and should have a combined ranking among the top 16.
In the men's doubles, the weight of expectations this time around will solely lie on India's top-ranked doubles player Rohan Bopanna. The 39-year-old had to partner with Paes for the 2016 games after major controversies. But the pairing earned him limited success. The pair couldn't cross the first-round hurdle. It would be interesting to see who he will choose to partner with for the Tokyo games. Bopanna did team up with Divij Sharan, India's second highest-ranked doubles player in 2020, in a few of the ATP tournaments in the 2019 season gaining mixed results.
Although Paes has made himself available until the Olympics, he will have a very tough path to qualify compared to his compatriots. Bopanna is currently ranked 42nd while Sharan is at 66th place in the world with room for improvement in the next few months as the deadline is only on 8th June after which the qualifications will be decided. Ramkumar Ramanathan is ranked 115, whereas Purav Raja who is ranked 130 is the 4th Indian. Paes is ranked at 139, which makes his path incredibly difficult. Even with combined ranking, the chances for Bopanna and Sharan together to qualify for Tokyo Olympics look slim. Therefore, Paes' equation looks impossible to qualify for his record eighth Olympic appearance.
Mirza's story has already been an incredible one so far. An Olympic medal could justify her illustrious career. In the 2012 Olympics, Sania had partnered with Leander Paes, where they had lost in the quarterfinals to top seed and eventual winner Victoria Azarenka and Max Mirnyi of Belarus. While in the 2016 Olympics, Sania partnered Rohan Bopanna as the fourth seed and lost in the semifinal to eventual silver medalists Rajeev Ram and Venus Williams. They closely lost in the bronze match to Radek Štěpánek and Lucie Hradecká of Czech Republic.
With a men's doubles qualification looking difficult for India, Sania will mainly eye a good at women's doubles event. Going by her performance in the Olympics in the mixed doubles event, she would like to team up with Bopanna as they had a comparatively better performance at the Olympics than the Sania-Paes pair.
Analysing the chances in detail, it looks like Leander Paes will not be able to make it to the Olympics and his dream of making it at the Games for the eighth time would remain unattained.