New Delhi: Indian tennis legend Leander Paes has backed the IOA's decision to appoint Sushil Kumar as the country's flag-bearer at the London Olympics opening ceremony, saying that the Beijing bronze-medallist wrestler deserves the
Shooter Abhinav Bindra, the country's first individual gold medallist at the last Olympics, was reportedly the preferred candidate of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) but since his 10m air rifle event is scheduled three days after the opening ceremony on July 30, the shooter wanted to focus on his preparations.
Similarly, boxer Vijender Singh's weigh-in is scheduled for 28 July, while Paes has already led the Indian contingent in the 2000 Sydney Games. Thus, the IOA decided that Sushil should do the honours this time.
"I have already been the flag bearer in the opening and closing ceremony. So I think it is really fair and I think that wrestler Sushil Kumar is well deserving of it," Paes was quoted as saying by NDTV.
"Because the Olympics come only once every four years it is only fair that other people also get a chance. I have already won a medal at the Olympics in singles," he added.
Paes, meanwhile, admitted that he was hurt by the entire AITA selection controversy that happened last month.
"Yes I was hurt. Yes, I was very stressed but at the end of the day that is life, isn't it. It was hard to go through Wimbledon and play day in and out. What you have to do as a professional athlete is to get away from all the negatives and the politics. I was able to do that well," said Paes.
"I was able to block out everything. It was in the news and on the TV everyday but you got to get away from all that and play hard and despite all that, we got to the finals and lost a really tough match 6-4 in the third set. I know how to play tennis. I know how to win a grand slam and Olympic medals. So I don't concentrate on that stuff," he said.
On whether he would have an edge at the Olympics considering that he made it to the mixed doubles final recently at the Wimbledon, which is also the venue for the Olympics, Paes said, "I have won the mixed doubles at Wimbledon playing with Lisa Raymond in the ad side to which I lost this year in the finals. I have won the mixed doubles with Martina Navratilova and with Cara Black. I have won it on the ad and the deuce side.
"At the end of the day, it does not matter which side you play. It is about playing great tennis. Whoever is on the team as long as they go out there and play great tennis. That's how you win.
"I have won a medal already in the singles. So to have a medal in the doubles or the mixed doubles would be my goal and would be phenomenal," he added.
Paes said he was looking forward to playing with both Vishnu Vardhan and Sania Mirza.
"I am really looking forward to playing with Sania. I enjoyed playing with her at the Asian games in Doha. She is a great talent and has achieved a lot in her career. For me regardless of which side I play, supporting the team and getting a medal is what is important.
"I don't concentrate on the periphery, the negatives and the positives. If it means I play on the deuce and Sania plays on the ad or Sania on the deuce and I play on the ad, that's what it will take. At the end of the day it is about the team and what it takes to play our best," insisted Paes.
Asked how difficult it would be to partner a debutant, at the Olympics, Paes said, "I brought Vishnu over to the Wimbledon for the last four days of my mixed doubles campaign there. He had never been to Wimbledon before so I got him to come and stay there with me and practice on the grass courts there. He soaked in the atmosphere, the conditions there."
"Right now for the last 10 days he has been practicing with my coach Rick Leach in California. I am really looking forward to playing with him. I was looking forward to playing with any player the selection committee chooses, whether it was Somdev, or Vishnu or anybody," he said.