WIMBLEDON, England – Leander Paes insists the "disheartening" selection row engulfing India's tennis team for the London Games hasn't dampened his enthusiasm about appearing in his sixth Olympics.
The 39-year-old Paes will play mixed doubles at the Olympics with India's top women's player, Sania Mirza, who on Tuesday said she was being used as "bait" to pacify Paes after he was asked to be paired with little-known Vishnu Vardhan in the men's doubles.
Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna will be India's other pairing in the men's doubles, after they each refused to partner with Paes in London because they have been playing together on the ATP circuit.
"I am here to play sport and not politics," Paes said on Thursday, after winning his first-round match in the men's doubles at Wimbledon with regular Czech partner Radek Stepanek. "Unfortunately, I see the games being played within games, and as much as that is very disheartening, I am looking forward to playing my sixth Olympics for my country as I have played for 22 years for the people and the flag."
Before his partnership with Mirza was confirmed, Paes had threatened to withdraw himself from contention following the decision to pair him with Vardhan.
"I am looking forward to representing my country with the teams that the All India Tennis Association have selected," Paes said.
Mirza won this year's French Open with Bhupathi and said in a statement that she was disillusioned after being "put up as bait to try and pacify one of the disgruntled stalwarts of Indian tennis," in a direct reference to Paes.
Paes refused to comment on either Mirza's statement or whether their relationship had been tarnished.
"Every Olympics has some nonsense coming in with it," Paes said. "I know how much hard work goes into what I do. (Either) people choose to respect it, which I'm very lucky that India does, (or) people choose to disrespect. That's their problem not mine."
A seven-time Grand Slam winner in men's doubles, Paes also won a bronze medal in singles in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
Paes said Vardhan will be his 91st different partner in men's doubles and acknowledged that going deep in the Olympic tournament with a player who is currently ranked No. 300 in the world in singles is a tall order.
"I don't even know if he has grass-court shoes," Paes said. "So it's a bit of a tough one.
"But he's a really good kid, I'm happy to play with him. Whatever the obstacles are, which I see are going to be many — he's never been to Wimbledon before — whatever I can do as an experienced professional athlete to help my partners out, I do."
India is sending its largest ever tennis contingent to the Olympics with seven players. Apart from the two men's doubles pairs and the mixed doubles, Mirza and Rushmi Chakravarthi will play in women's doubles, while Somdev Devvarman will play in men's singles after receiving a wild card.