Indian tennis star Mahesh Bhupathi insists that his consistent presence on the pro circuit should not be considered preparations for the Rio Olympics since all he is trying to get is his rhythm after recovering from a knee injury.
Bhupathi is competing at the Delhi Open, an ATP Challenger circuit event, with country’s top singles player Yuki Bhambri. It raised speculation that he may have planned a comeback for the Olympic Games since he had hardly played in the last two years.
The 41-year-old though sought to scotch the speculation and said that if he stops enjoying the game next week, he will stop playing tennis.
“Olympics is not on my mind at all. I am just enjoying out there. I am feeling healthy. I was injured so I was not playing. I have Protected Ranking now, so I am playing,” Bhupathi told PTI in an exclusive interaction.
“As long as I enjoy, I will play. As soon as I stop enjoying, I will stop playing. If (next week) in Dubai I feel I am not playing well and my body starts hurting, I will stop playing. Luckily I have the luxury of making my own schedule,” he asserted.
A player, who has not been a part of competitive tennis for six months due to injury, can participate in nine tournaments or nine months (whichever is early) with Entry Protection. Protected Ranking (PR) is determined by the player’s average ATP rankings position during the first three months of his injury.
The Entry Protection excludes wild cards and entries as a Direct Acceptance with his current position in the ATP Rankings.
Bhupathi may not be eyeing appearance at his sixth Olympics but if he gets good results and improves his ranking, he can actually stake a claim to be considered for selection in the Indian squad despite not meeting the eligibility criteria.
Bhupathi has not represented the country in Davis Cup since September 2011 and rules require a player to be nominated in the Davis Cup squad at least thrice in an Olympic cycle (four years), to be eligible for selection.
However, an ITF official told PTI that a National Association can appeal to the ITF Olympic Committee on behalf of a player, who does not meet Davis Cup/Fed Cup eligibility criteria for his inclusion.
Bhupathi said he was not aware about the rules.
“I don’t know the rules. But physically I am feeling good which is the most important thing. Next week I am playing in Dubai with (Aisam-ul-Haq) Qureshi.
“I am just trying to get my rhythm back. More matches I play, the better I feel. Compared to Chennai Open, I am feeling much better now. Three matches I played in Chennai, two in Bangkok, two in Australia, three in France and now one here. That’s 10 matches. It’s more than what I played in the last two years,” Bhupathi said.
Asked by what time he expects to get back his top game, Bhupathi said he “can’t say.”
“I am having fun out there, I want to play as much as I can. Let’s see how it goes. I am not at that level (as of now).”
Rohan Bopanna, at present, is India’s top-ranked doubles player at number eight followed by Leander Paes (52), who is eyeing a record seventh Olympics appearance but has been struggling for form.
Bhupathi, who is world No.286 right now, has time till June 6 to improve his ranking since world rankings on that day will be considered for entry into the Rio Games.