'Selection row won't affect my game'

Mahesh Bhupathi on Thursday insisted that the recent selection controversy for the London 2012 Olympic Games would not affect his game during the mega event.

Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna

"It won't affect the game at the Olympics. Wimbledon is over and we are focussing on Olympics. Mentally, we are ready.

If we didn't think our chances were realistic, we wouldn't be going there. All of us are professionals and we think we have a chance to contend and that is why we are going," Bhupathi told reporters in Mumbai.

Bhupathi had only recently, blamed the tennis row, which saw him and his doubles partner Rohan Bopanna refusing to partner India no 1 (in doubles) Leander Paes at the Games, for the duo's early ouster from the men's doubles at the Wimbledon championships that ended last Sunday.

"We are hoping India can come up with a few medals in tennis and that is for sure. I am not Nostradamus, but I know we have seven realistic shots (in all disciplines) and hopefully, five or six of us can come through," he said.

Bhupathi, who is leaving for London on Saturday, said he and partner Bopanna have been preparing for the event since last seven months.

"We are ready to go. As far as the expectation, the hardest win in an athlete's life is an Olympic medal. We feel we have a shot as good as the rest. We need to play right and have some luck," said the 38-year old player.

He admitted that the wait for an Olympic medal has been painful and long.

On the biggest rivals during the contest, Bhupathi, who will be playing in his fifth Olympics, said, "It's Roger (Federer), Rafa (Rafael Nadal), Andy Murray, (Novak), Djokovic and the Bryan brothers. It is the Olympics, so there are no easy matches.

"The Olympic doubles tournament is possibly the hardest tournament in the world because you have got every top singles guy trying to get Olympic glory and all the top doubles guys as well. So there are no easy matches and there are no free lunches. We have to focus on our first round first and then worry about the rest later."

Bhupathi added that he and his partner have been training hard for the event.

"You need to go to the Olympic with some kind of preparation. We are not as talented as Roger or Rafa to just pick up pieces and win a medal. So, it is extremely necessary to go with preparation and hence we are," he said.

On the Olympic tennis matches being hosted in Wimbledon, he said,"It will be huge for all tennis players. Wimbledon is as it is a Mecca for us. It is just the magnitude of Olympics on top of that, should be a great spectacle for tennis."

"Luckily, the Olympics is on grass and our grass court season has just ended. The last four weeks we have been practising very hard. Obviously, the results in Wimbledon didn't go our way. The practise continues and tournaments continue and we are looking forward," he added.

Asked about Bopanna's game, he said, "He has got a big game. He is an aggressive player, exactly the kind of game you need when you are playing grass court tennis."

On the partnership with 32-year old Bopanna, he said, "In a doubles team, you need to find the best ways in which you can complement each other so that you can get best results. Rohan and me have been working for seven months. We have been practising very hard and now we are looking forward for the games starting."

Asked about the adjustments he had to make in his game, he replied, "Rohan has made the transition on the deuce court pretty well. We have beaten some top teams in the world including the No 1 team in the world last month, so we are not worried about that."

He added that the three-set format in Olympic will leave no room for error but was confident that the pair will be able to perform well.

"The format is different because in Grand Slams, it is five-set and here (Olympic) it is three-set. So it is a shoot out because grass has barely any margin for error. Our game suits up to that because Rohan's better next to me in a big game as well. So it is as good as shot as anyone," Mahesh said.

He also felt that his wife Lara and daughter Saira would be watching him play during the Games which would be a big boost. Recalling the 2004 Athens Olympics, when he and Paes missed out on a bronze medal by losing to Mario Ancic and Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia, he said, "We were playing for a medal that day. So first job is to do the hard work and get ourselves in that position again but we will not go through (that loss) again."

He emphasised that the Olympic medal was important as the Games are played once in four years unlike Grand Slams and Davis Cup which are played on a yearly basis. India have last won a medal in tennis in the Games when Paes clinched the bronze in 1996 at Atlanta.

On his retirement plans, he parried the question and said, "I am 38 and will be playing in my fifth Olympic Games.

It still gets the juices. Now we have to hope for a good draw and start performing. (Retirement) we will decide after the Olympics."



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