NEW DELHI – India's top woman tennis player, Sania Mirza, blasted the national federation for using her as "bait" in a compromise to resolve a dispute over team selection for the Olympics.
Mirza said in a statement late Tuesday that her interests were ignored in a bid to pacify senior player Leander Paes, who had threatened to pull out of the London contingent after being paired in doubles with little known Vishnu Vardhan.
Paes was asked to partner with Vardhan after Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna refused to play with Paes in London because they have been playing together on the ATP circuit.
The All India Tennis Association tried to pacify Paes by naming him to the mixed-doubles team with Mirza even though Bhupathi and Mirza recently won the French Open.
"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 honored 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, whose statement added that she had achieved a career-high ranking of No. 27 that only two Indian men — Vijay Amritraj (16) and Ramesh Krishnan (23) — having surpassed, also chastised Paes and Bhupathi for showing Vardhan a lack of 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," said Mirza, who won the mixed doubles silver with Vardhan at the Guangzhou Asian Games in 2010.
"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 added.
"I am the only Grand Slam champion (mixed doubles at the 2009 Australian Open and 2012 French Open) from India apart from Mahesh and Leander. I believe I can expect a little more respect from the national tennis federation," Mirza said.
AITA responded to Mirza's statement on Wednesday, 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," AITA secretary-general Bharat Oza said in the statement.