x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Sania Mirza protests being 'compensation' in association's negotiations

The top women's player has no mixed feelings over the All India Tennis Association use of her as pay-off to appease Leander Paes. She's mad.

Sania Mirza, playing women’s doubles at Wimbledon, is upset that the All India Tennis Association has used her to placate Leander Paes. Leon Neal / AFP
Sania Mirza, playing women’s doubles at Wimbledon, is upset that the All India Tennis Association has used her to placate Leander Paes. Leon Neal / AFP

NEW DELHI // India's top woman tennis player, Sania Mirza, blasted the national federation for using her as "bait" while working out a compromise during a continuing controversy over team selection for the Olympics.

Mirza said in a statement that her interests were ignored in a bid to pacify the senior player Leander Paes, who had threatened to pull out of the London contingent after being paired with the little-known Vishnu Vardhan in men's doubles.

Paes was asked to partner Vardhan after Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna both refused to play with him in London because the duo have been playing together on the ATP circuit.

The All India Tennis Association (AITA) tried to pacify Paes by naming him to the mixed-doubles team even though Bhupathi and Mirza recently teamed to win the French Open in mixed doubles.

"As an Indian woman belonging to the 21st century, what I find disillusioning is the humiliating manner in which I was put up as bait to try and pacify one of the disgruntled stalwarts of Indian tennis," Mirza said in the statement.

"While I feel honoured and privileged to have been chosen to partner Leander, the manner and timing of the announcement reeks of male chauvinism where a two-time grand slam champion, who has been India's No 1 women's tennis player for almost a decade in singles and doubles, is offered in compensation to partner one of the feuding champions in order to lure him into accepting to play with a men's player he does not wish to play with!"

Mirza won grand slam titles in women's doubles at the 2011 French Open, and in mixed doubles at the 2009 Australian Open and the 2012 French Open.

AITA responded to Mirza's statement yesterday, saying the team had been selected on merit and that players should concentrate on doing well at the Olympics.

"We earnestly appeal to all the players to unite together, shed off all their differences, stop going public and join hands together in the best national interest of winning medals for the country and bring glory to the nation," the secretary general Bharat Oza said in a statement.

Mirza, whose statement added that she had achieved a career-high ranking of No 27 with only two Indian men - Vijay Amritraj (16) and Ramesh Krishnan (23) - having done better, was also disappointed at the attitude shown by Paes and Bhupathi, and that Vardhan deserved more respect.

"To Leander, I would like to point out that Vishnu is an extremely talented player. For Leander to consider partnering with Vishnu only if he has a written assurance from me to play mixed doubles is, I think, demeaning for me, Vishnu and Leander," Mirza said.

She won a mixed-doubles silver medal with Vardhan at the 2010 Asian Games.

"Mahesh has firmly stood by his commitment to play with his men's doubles partner, Rohan, as he genuinely believed it was good for India. However, in the process, he sacrificed the commitment he made to me to try and win an Olympic medal together," she said.

"I am the only grand slam champion from India apart from Mahesh and Leander. I believe I can expect a little more respect from the national tennis federation."

India is sending its largest tennis contingent to the Olympics, with seven players in the team.

Apart from the two men's doubles pairs and the mixed doubles, Mirza and Rushmi Chakravarthi will play in women's doubles, while Somdev Devvarman will play in men's singles after getting a wild card.


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