Shambolic is the right word to describe India's tennis campaign at the 2012 London Olympics. But it was coming, wasn't it, considering what transpired in the lead-up to the hallowed event?
A can of worms opened with Mahesh Bhupathi's refusal to partner Leander Paes, the bronze medalist at Atlanta 1996. The All India Tennis Association (AITA), the national governing body for the sport, gaped at the announcement. It had set its mind to sending both players together in the men's doubles. It had reason. Both had combined together many a time in the past to bring India glory at the international level before splitting.
AITA's heart was in the right place but it made a big mistake by turning a blind eye to the ever-worsening relationship between the two tennis veterans in recent years. Against their heart, they had gone to the Beijing Olympics in China in 2008 as well, but it did not work for them.
Never the twain shall meet. AITA forgot that trite and India paid a big price for that.
In a damage control exercise they paired Bhupathi with Rohan Bopanna, a combination welcome to Bhupathi. To appease Paes, they paired him with Sania Mirza for the mixed doubles. The decision was unfathomable because just a couple of weeks before Bhupathi and Sania had won the French Open title together. Also, AITA put Paes and Vishnu Vardhan together for the men's doubles.
It was no surprise when Sania, in a strongly-worded letter, thrashed AITA for its arrangement. Even though she said that despite the arrangement she would do her best and try to win a medal, observers could foresee nothing coming India’s way.
It turned out to be that way. Bhupathi-Bopanna lost to Julien Benneteau and Richard Gasquet in the second round; Paes-Vardhan got the same fate, losing to the French pair of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Michael Llodra in the second round. Paes-Sania also went as far as the second round before bombing against the Belarusian pair of Max Mirnyi and Victoria Azarenka. There wasn't any expectation of Sania and Rashmi Chakaravarthy in the women's doubles and they furtively crashed out in the first round. Somdev Devvarman, India's only singles entry at the Games, also saw a first-round exit.
Not that India would surely have got a medal with the Paes-Bhupathi combination. They have gone to four Olympics and have come back empty-handed on all occasions. Since there was no guarantee of a medal, it was wrong on AITA's part to put them together for London 2012. Putting Saina and Paes together was another big mistake. All this created discontent in the tennis contingent and that surely reflected in the performance of all the players involved.
The question is whether AITA has learnt anything from its mistake. It's high time they looked beyond Paes and Bhupathi and nurtured young talent like Somdev and Yuki Bhambri. It was Paes and Bhupathi's last Olympics and it was not a best devised farewell for them.