India's medal hopes in tennis at the Asian Games 2014 at Incheon, South Korea has been significantly diminished, as three of its top players announced that they would not be able to represent the country, in order to improve on their personal ATP or WTA rankings.
The three players to pull out of the Indian Tennis contingent for the Asian Games are Leander Paes, Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza, the All India Tennis Association (AITA) said in a statement, exactly a day after the Union Sports Ministry of India announced the 679 member Indian Contingent for the Incheon Games, which is supposed to start on 19 September.
"In respect of Asian Games, 2014, special circumstances have developed where it's necessary for the players to participate in ATP and WTA events to protect their rankings and to give the additional push to qualify for the year-end World Masters to be held in London for men and in Singapore in women," said the AITA, in a press release.
The three players, who have pulled out of the Asiad 2014, have said that they would like to improve their respective ATP and WTA rankings, in order to be able to participate in the World Masters series, to be held later this year. Hence they would be playing other international tournaments, on the ATP or the WTA circuits, while the Asian Games are going on, instead of representing their country.
Paes would be playing in the Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur, and the Rakuten Japan Open in Tokyo, while the Asian Games take place. The men's doubles event in the Malaysian Open starts on Tuesday, 23 September and goes on till Sunday, 28 September, while the event of the same category begins on Monday, 29 September, and continues till Sunday, 5 October. The winner's prize money for both these events is more than $1 million.
"My ranking has dropped to 35 in the world," Paes, who is currently in Bangalore, representing his country for the Davis Cup match against Serbia, told The Telegraph. "Hence I have to get some job security for next year. I have to play a long fall season, through Kuala Lumpur as well as Tokyo. These two tournaments are the exact dates in the nine-day span of the events in Asian Games."
Bopanna also went on record to state that his decision not to play for India in the Asian Games "had nothing to do with wanting to represent the country or not". He said that his decision was very "unfortunate", but he had to take this step, in order to improve his rankings, and play in the Masters, at the end of the year.
Sania Mirza, who had recently come under some criticism with many people calling her disloyal to her country, had the perfect chance to prove her critics wrong, by performing well for India, at the Asian Games. However, she seems to have spurned that opportunity, in order to play in a couple of WTA event in Asia, during that time.
Mirza and her Zimbabwean partner are currently ranked No. 7 in the WTA women's doubles rankings, and stand a great chance to make it to the Championships, in Singapore. The duo currently has a 1,900 point lead to protect, in the WTA Rankings, in order to make it there.
Members of the Sports Ministry and the Sports Authority of India have expressed their shock at the decision of these three top athletes, and say that there is not much time left to replace them in the Indian contingent. Hence, the Indian tennis contingent would consist of merely 9 players, and would be lead by Ankita Raina, who is currently ranked 293 on the WTA Singles Charts.
"We have been kept in the dark all along and even today I am hearing only from the media that these three players will not take part," a top official from the Sports Ministry, told India Today.
The AITA said that these players had filed in their requests, not to play in the Asian Games, quite a long time ago. However, the apex tennis administration has decided to reveal this fact, just a day after the Sports Ministry has made a final list for the Asian Games.