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Suspense continues over Paes participation

New Delhi: Suspense over participation of Leander Paes in the London Olympics persisted today with the country`s number one ranked player yet to confirm that he would do so even as AITA was making efforts to persuade him.

After being available to the media for the past several days, Paes was incommunicado and has not directly said a word since All India Tennis Association (AITA) announced on Thursday that he would be paired with 206th ranked Vishnu Vardhan in the men`s doubles contrary to his wishes. AITA has deputed one of its selectors Rohit Rajpal to London where he will meet Paes in a bid to persuade him.

The father of the tennis player hockey Olympian Dr Vece Paes had last night indicated that Paes might not accept the pairing. The senior Paes had said that Leander was disappointed with the decision as it was very unfair on him and it was difficult to say which way he will go. Paes has been paired with Sania Mirza in the mixed doubles event and there were reports that he wanted a written assurance that Sania would play with him.

Under the compromise announced by AITA yesterday, Paes will participate in two events while Mahesh Bhupathi, with whom he had bitter exchanges in the past few weeks, got his wish to play alongside Rohan Bopanna in the doubles. Paes, ranked number seven in doubles, is the only Indian in the top-10, thereby having a privilege to choose a partner of his choice.

Unable to please all, AITA is trying hard to ensure that a miffed Paes does not withdraw from the Games. "Senior AITA selector Rohit Rajpal is going to London and he will speak to Paes and try to convince him over the two team formula," an AITA source told PTI. The compromise formula was announced barely hours before the deadline for sending entries expired.

This means that India will take part in at least three tennis events provided Sania gets a wild card entry which is expected. Wild cards will be announced by the ITF on June 28. Put in a quandary, after the three top players threatened to opt out of the mega event, AITA conceded that its decision was "not fair" in all respects but was in the "best interest of the nation".

Meanwhile, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, who is also AITA`s honorary Life President, has appealed to the bickering Indian tennis players to shed "individual egos" and instead play to bring laurels for the country in London Olympics. "We have to see that a good team goes to London to represent the country. Winning medal should be the sole objective," Krishna told reporters in Bangalore.

"Everybody should rise to the occasion and forego individual egos and prejudices," he added. Krishna had to intervene in the bitter tennis selection row after Bhupathi refused to play with Leander Paes and asked the AITA to pair him up with Rohan Bopanna. Krishna appealed to the players and officials to work towards the Indian tennis team winning medal in the Games.

"I have not spoken to anybody but as an avid tennis lover and enthusiasts, I appealed to all those concerned that we should send the best players and they should come back with laurels for the country," he said. Sports Minister Ajay Maken sought to steer clear of the furore surrounding the controversial tennis team selection but said the feuding players should put national interest first.

"It is not the job of the Ministry, we do not participate in the selection process. Things like these should have been worked out long back," Maken told reporters here. "We can only appeal to the players through media and and we have done that. This is the `Lakshman rekha` and let us not cross that. Let us not disturb the sanctity of this `Lakshman rekha`," he added.

Asked if he would also chip in to douse the controversy, Maken said, "I don`t think it is proper for the ministry to cross this Lakshman rekha. "As per the laid down norms of the IOC, the federation decides if at all any other organisation can come in. The ministry cannot interfere and the ministry never interferes. It will set a bad precedent. I wish them all the best. I appeal to the players that they think about national interest first," he said.

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