Sania was right in slamming 'opportunistic' Lee, Hesh

Last Updated: Fri, Jun 29, 2012 09:23 hrs

Sania Mirza's outburst on receiving the wild card for the London Olympics was to be expected. For nearly two weeks, she had maintained a monkish silence when the big boys of Indian tennis - Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi - were scrapping like a couple of schoolkids over candy. Sania was well within her rights and spot on in slamming the AITA and the two squabbling 'role models'. I guess, it was about time that these men were put in their place.

Looking back, one actually sympathises with Sania for the manner in which her name was used to entice the petulant Paes who sought a 'written commitment' that he would partner Sania in mixed doubles. And caught in the crossfire was poor Vishnu Vardhan who is not half as bad as Leander made him out to be.

Sania made a crucial point about the 2010 Asian Games when Lee and Hesh put their doubles interests before India's needs and skipped the event. Ditto Bopanna who was then partnering Pakistan's Qureshi opted out of the Asian Games. And Bopanna should be told that it was not a sacrifice to break partnership with Qureshi, but it was his duty to make himself available for Olmypics.  

It was left to Sania, Somdev and Vishnu to carry the Indian flag and they did not disappoint. So, for Lee, Hesh and Bopanna to be talking about putting country before self at this stage only smacks of opportunism. If representing the country mattered so much to these boys, then why didn't they play in the Asian Games?

Obviously, Olympics being a truly global event, it mattered for the two 38-year old fathers to be seen on the biggest sporting stage. Never mind whether or not they have a realistic medal chance, but I suppose both realize that this would be probably their last shot at the Olympic glory and a medal would do nicely, thank you!

It saddens me that Leander, of all people, should stoop to such low levels and particularly his father, Vece, whom I have known for a quarter of century. I vividly remember the day in 1988 when Vece gave me Lee's bio-data and said: Keep this, it might help you to do Lee's profile when he plays Davis Cup. Over the years, I have had occasions to spend time with Vece, once at his home in Kolkata. So, to hear him talk about back stabbing and written commitments was a bit of a shock.

Anyway, all that is water under the bridge and hopefully, the AITA bosses would have learnt their lessons from this wretched incident. It is about time that the federation stopped pandering to the stalwart players (to quote Sania) and promoted youngsters. It is better to give the young players a chance and return empty handed, than curry favours to the stars who behave like they own Indian tennis.

Ultimately, there are no winners but only losers as India cut a sorry figure internationally. If there are sniggers in the Wimbledon dressing rooms, then I wouldn't be surprised. The point is that Lee, Hesh and Bopanna are guilty of making an issue of team selection while their reactions only confirmed a long-held belief that beneath the surface, Indian tennis is rotten. Given the unbridled animosity between Lee and Hesh, it is a wonder they live on the same planet!

As for Sania, she has made her point and kicked a few butts, and it is best for her to look ahead. As in the case of the other three stalwarts, her performance at Wimbledon will be closely watched, for the Olympic tennis competition will be played on the same grass courts.

The moral of the story is that despite all their truly magnificent achievements, the most recent public behaviour of Leander and Bhupathi has sullied their image beyond repair. While earlier, the differences among the players was a mere footnote, post the Olympic selection fiasco, it is a chapter in itself. It is a legacy and a precedence Indian tennis can do without.

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