New Delhi : With Mahesh Bhupathi refusing to partner Leander Paes in the men’s doubles tennis at the London Olympics, the All India Tennis Association (AITA) has decided to field a surprise player. Emerging from a meeting with AITA secretary general Anil Khanna, West Bengal tennis official M Banerjee let the cat out of the bag, when she announced that association’s first choice for Paes’ doubles partner is Rahul Gandhi and second choice is Robert Vadra.
But another group within the AITA has suggested a set of three other names to partner Paes in London. Banerjee who subsequently met with the UP Tennis Association president M S Yadav, said their choices are Bhoopinder Hooda, Manmohan Singh and S M Krishna. Both Haryana chief minister Hooda and Foreign minister Krishna play decent tennis though critics say Krishna’s name was mentioned only so that the people of Karnataka don’t feel miffed that a son of the soil – Mahesh Bhupathi was unceremoniously axed. Another name of P A Sangma has been put forth by Odisha Tennis Association, saying a tribal player from north-east should be given a chance to play in the Olympics.
The AITA however, has refused to accept any of the four names, particularly Manmohan Singh clarifying he is not match fit. “He can only do the job of the Prime Minister of the country, not play tennis as well. This is not acceptable. The government has said it cannot spare Manmohan Singh,” Khanna said.
Sources in the AITA say though top officials are not keen on Rahul Gandhi because of his lack of success in big ticket tournaments, he is likely to partner Paes as he could be a gamechanger on his day. “Have you forgotten how he tore the manifesto of the Samajwadi Party and BSP at an election rally in UP. He will similarly tear rival players apart,” said Digvijay Singh, Rahul Gandhi’s coach.
To prepare him for the Olympics, Digvijay Singh has reportedly advised Rahul Gandhi to stop visiting Dalit homes in remote villages to eat dinner. “He should eat nutritious food, that will improve his stamina. He needs to work on his serve, volley, forehand, backhand and net play. He is reading up on how the points system works in tennis. Rest everything about his game is fine,” he added.
In a statement, Manmohan Singh has lauded the candidature of Rahul Gandhi as India’s doubles tennis player. “Under the able leadership of Smt Sonia Gandhi ji, I am confident that with the support of Shri Leander Paes, Shri Rahul Gandhi ji will lead India to a medal in men’s doubles tennis at the London Olympics. Shri Rahul Gandhi ji came to the rescue of All India Tennis Association at a critical moment and this gesture will go down in India’s tennis history as a golden moment,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, Sangma has challenged the AITA’s decision, suggesting that if Rahul Gandhi cannot be dropped, why not drop Paes from the doubles team. “I can partner Rahul Gandhi and we can play for India in London,” he offered. AITA said it will take a decision at the appropriate time.