New Delhi: The All-India Tennis Association (AITA) has rejected Sania Mirza's criticism that she was used as a "bait" to pacify the warring duo of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi ahead of the 2012 London Olympics, saying the decision to pair Sania with Paes is based on merit.
"Selection for the Olympics is based on merit," the AITA secretary general Bharat Oza said in a statement, read by the executive director Ranbir Chauhan at a press conference on Wednesday. "The team has been chosen by a professional selection committee. Leander and Sania can produce fantastic results together. We want them to do their best for India. Let's leave all differences behind and play for India."
On Tuesday, Sania, who got a wildcard entry into the Olympics, had broken her silence for the first time on the selection controversy and came down heavily on the two Indian tennis stalwarts as well as Paes' father, Vece Paes. Sania lashed out at the AITA for pairing her with Paes in the mixed doubles event, alleging that she was used as a "bait" so that the latter agreed to participate in the London Games.
"As regards selection of teams, the selection committee on 21st June, the last date for nomination, noted that Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna had made themselves unavailable for selection with Leander Paes despite efforts of AITA," the AITA statement said. "The Committee then selected Leander Paes with Vishnu Vardhan as his doubles partner, as Vishnu Vardhan was the preferred partner and also silver medallist in [the] Asian Games. The committee also decided that a wildcard application be made for Somdev Devvarman and for Sania Mirza for both women's singles as well as women's doubles as without a wildcard she will not be eligible to play mixed doubles.
"The committee, thereafter, selected world No. 7 and India No. 1 Leander Paes to partner world No. 12 and India No. 1 Sania Mirza in the mixed doubles Olympics event. With a combined ranking of 19, they were placed ninth in the top 12 teams to be eligible for mixed doubles. This selection is purely on merits as stated herein above," the statement added.
The apex tennis body of the country said it respects Sania and believes that she and Paes as a team are capable of winning a medal at the London Games. "AITA respects all its players and is fully aware of the accomplishments of Sania Mirza as an excellent tennis player. AITA believes that Leander and Sania together are capable of producing fantastic results in the Olympics," the statement said.