The Indian tennis squad has finally figured out its doubles combinations less than 24 hours before the start of competition at the Asian Games, a far from ideal scenario courtesy Leander Paes’ sudden withdrawal.
Unhappy with the team selection, Paes had pulled out of the event at the last-minute and thrown captain and coach Zeeshan Ali’s plans haywire.
The singles entries were already decided and so was the doubles pairing of Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan. The other doubles and mixed doubles combinations were finalised after an intense training session on Friday evening.
The two events have always been crucial for India at the Games where the country collected five medals four years ago including a mixed doubles gold, a silver and bronze in the men’s doubles besides a women’s doubles bronze.
Ramkumar Ramanathan, who will be playing singles alongside Prajnesh Gunneswaran, will form the second men’s doubles pairing with Sumit Nagal, who arrived only late last night.
The captain was upset at having to choose between Ramanathan, Gunneswaran and Nagal as they are all singles specialists.
Ali has already said that Paes’ absence will be a big loss and the women’s unit will have to fight for medals without Sania Mirza, who is expecting.
The choice in the mixed doubles is rather interesting. Besides their singles duty, Ankita Raina and Karman Kaur Thandi will be playing mixed doubles with Bopanna and Sharan respectively.
Doubles player Prarthana Thombare has been ignored for mixed doubles and will only play doubles with Raina, who will be playing three events.
Rutuja Bhonsale and Pranjala Yadlapalli will be the other women’s doubles duo.
Ali reiterated that rankings were not considered before the doubles selection and the decision was based on the best team combination.
“The decision has been taken after the practice session last evening and the following discussions with Rohan and Divij,” Ali told PTI.
During the intense session, Bopanna teamed up with Thombare while Sharan and Raina were in the other half of the court. A little later, Raina joined Bopanna and Thandi partnered Sharan. Eventually, it stayed like that.
The draw of all five events will be out later today. There are no team events this time and India have their task cut out if they are to emulate the performance of the Incheon Games.
Top players like Japan’s Kei Nishikori (world rank 23), South Korea’s Hyeon Chung (25) and Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin (88) have opted out of the tournament, breaking the men’s singles draw wide open.
India’s number one player Yuki Bhambri (97) is also not playing as he will be competing at the US Open. Uzbekistan veteran Denis Istomin, ranked 76th, will be the top seed. He had lost to Somdev Devvarman in the 2010 Games final.
The field is much more competitive in the women’s singles with world number 32 Shuai Zhang of China as the top seed. Her Chinese compatriot Wang Qiang (53) is the defending champion and there are many other players who are ranked higher than India’s Raina (187) and Thandi (197).
The field also has runner-up Luksika Kumkkhum (93) of Thailand, Wang Yafan (91) and Duan Yingying (109) of China, Sabina Sharipova (124) of Uzbekistan and Miyu Kato (169) of Japan.
The competition begins tomorrow with first round matches scheduled for men’s singles, women’s singles and mixed doubles.