Paes ready to partner reluctant Bhupathi

NEW DELHI Sun Jun 17, 2012 11:26am IST

Leander Paes speaks during an interview with Reuters at the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association (DLTA) stadium in New Delhi February 5, 2012. REUTERS/Parivartan Sharma/Files

Leander Paes speaks during an interview with Reuters at the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association (DLTA) stadium in New Delhi February 5, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Parivartan Sharma/Files

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Leander Paes is prepared to team up with friend-turned-foe Mahesh Bhupathi for the London Olympics despite his personal preference to partner someone else, the doubles specialist said.

The All Indian Tennis Association (AITA) is grappling with a crisis of its own making after pairing Paes and Bhupathi together for London, uniting two men who are not even on speaking terms after a second acrimonious split last year.

Bhupathi had threatened to skip London if separated from his regular partner Rohan Bopanna, who incidentally was Paes' preferred choice for the Games.

"I have always maintained that I will play with whoever the selection committee and AITA choose and this continues to be my stand," Paes said in a statement late on Saturday.

"It is a well known fact that when asked by the AITA, I have expressed my preference to play with Rohan Bopanna as my partner in the Olympics 2012, based on his physical fitness and big serve," added Paes, whose top-10 ranking gives him direct entry.

Bopanna is ranked 12th and Bhupathi 14th.

Paes, who claimed bronze in the singles event at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and Bhupathi formed a formidable partnership in the late 1990s, winning three grand slams.

Soon their relationship soured and they parted ways, playing together only when representing the country.

Even though Bhupathi is adamant that India should field two doubles teams in London - saying he and Bopanna have qualified as a partnership based on their rankings - AITA is unlikely to budge.

"Mahesh should show some maturity," AITA president Anil Khanna told reporters on Saturday. "They have to realise that nation comes much before (their) commitment to each other."

Meanwhile, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) has asked the AITA to produce a report on their selection process.

"As the contingent for the Olympics is going under IOA's banner, I would appreciate it if you (AITA) could let me know the full details regarding this issue," IOA acting president Vijay Kumar Malhotra wrote in his letter to Khanna.

"Our whole focus at the moment should be to send the best medal prospects and I strongly believe that we have very good chance of winning a medal in tennis this time," (Editing by John O'Brien)

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