For India, the tennis clashes began long before the Games

From left, the Indian male protagonists, Mahesh Bhupathi, Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna have been involved in public feuds, while Sania Mirza said she was treated in a "humiliating manner" four years ago.
The Indian male protagonists, Mahesh Bhupathi, Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna have been involved in public feuds, while (above) Sania Mirza said she was treated in a "humiliating manner" four years ago.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
From left, the Indian male protagonists, Mahesh Bhupathi, Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna have been involved in public feuds, while Sania Mirza said she was treated in a "humiliating manner" four years ago.
The Indian male protagonists, (above) Mahesh Bhupathi, Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna have been involved in public feuds, while Sania Mirza said she was treated in a "humiliating manner" four years ago.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
From left, the Indian male protagonists, Mahesh Bhupathi, Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna have been involved in public feuds, while Sania Mirza said she was treated in a "humiliating manner" four years ago.
The Indian male protagonists, Mahesh Bhupathi, (above) Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna have been involved in public feuds, while Sania Mirza said she was treated in a "humiliating manner" four years ago.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
From left, the Indian male protagonists, Mahesh Bhupathi, Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna have been involved in public feuds, while Sania Mirza said she was treated in a "humiliating manner" four years ago.
The Indian male protagonists, Mahesh Bhupathi, Leander Paes and (above) Rohan Bopanna have been involved in public feuds, while Sania Mirza said she was treated in a "humiliating manner" four years ago.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW DELHI • India loves Bollywood, and its Olympic tennis team have inadvertently provided a sequel suitable for the country's renowned film industry.

As at the London Games four years ago, personality clashes and animosity are threatening to overshadow the Indian players' reputation for strong doubles play.

Since the 2012 Games, Sania Mirza has risen to No. 1 in the women's doubles rankings and Leander Paes, who at 43 is headed to a seventh Olympics, has collected five more Grand Slam titles in doubles or mixed doubles to raise his career total to 18.

But, instead of celebrating Paes' longevity and the team's medal chances, the Indian players have been rehashing public feuds.

"It doesn't look good, but it happens in various other countries," said Bharat Oza, the secretary-general of the All India Tennis Association (Aita).

Four years ago, Aita's preference was for Mahesh Bhupathi to partner Paes, recreating the team that won three Grand Slams.

But Bhupathi, whose doubles partner at the time was Rohan Bopanna, refused to play with Paes.

Bhupathi, who used stinging language like "we don't speak and have no camaraderie" and said Paes "privately and publicly stabbed me in the back", could not be convinced.

Ultimately, Bhupathi and Bopanna formed one doubles team, with Paes forced to play with the unheralded Vishnu Vardhan.

Paes, though, was chosen to play mixed doubles with Mirza, even though she had won two mixed doubles Grand Slam titles with Bhupathi, including one at the French Open just weeks earlier.

Mirza, feeling like a pawn, released a lengthy, no-holds-barred statement denouncing the decision on the team's composition.

"As an Indian woman belonging to the 21st century, what I find disillusioning is the humiliating manner in which I was put up as a (sic) bait to try and pacify one of the disgruntled stalwarts of Indian tennis," she said.

None of India's four doubles teams won more than one Olympic match on the grass of the All England Club.

Any thoughts of a seamless process this year fizzled out when Bopanna told Aita that he wanted to play in Rio de Janeiro with Saketh Myneni, who has yet to appear in the top 100 in singles or doubles but has regularly played with Bopanna in the Davis Cup.

Aita, to no one's surprise, turned down Bopanna's request, and he was named Paes' partner.

This time, though, there was no fight.

"The moment we declared this is what the combinations are, Rohan sent me an e-mail saying that I agree to play because he knew if he refuses, then he knows we don't send a team," Oza said.

If Bopanna had prevented Paes from making a national record-extending seventh appearance in the Olympic tennis event and deprived India of male participants, he would have been cast as a villain by many in the country.

Mirza avoided being placed in an awkward position again.

A team of Bopanna and Mirza was the only one that had a rankings combination that guaranteed India a spot in the 16-team mixed doubles draw.

Paes' lone Olympic medal came in singles, in Atlanta in 1996, when he took home the bronze.

If he and Bopanna stand side by side on the podium in Brazil, this Bollywood-style drama would come to a pleasing conclusion for Indian tennis fans.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2016, with the headline 'For India, the tennis clashes began long before the Games'. Print Edition | Subscribe