The curious case of Paes and Bhupati

Published: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 13:57 Updated: Sun, 07/22/2012 - 09:59

Leander Paes may pull out of the Olympics making it clear for the fans that The Indian Express duo will not be seen playing together in London

Sandeep Kumar Delhi

“Leander Paes is like wine which gets better with age”, despite praising Paes with these wonderful lines, Mahesh Bhupati is still in no mood to rejoin hands with his most successful doubles partner.  The Indian Express duo of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupati, once the pride of India, has again defamed the Indian Tennis Association and their fans.

From fans to players, coaches to association, politicians to ministers, everyone has been tense waiting for the decision which would determine the fate of India’s tennis participation at the 2012 London Olympics. Putting an end to the week- long drama, the All Indian Tennis Association (AITA) has finally decided to send not one but two men's doubles teams to the Olympics. “Rookie Vishnu Vardhan will partner Leander Paes while Mahesh Bhupathi will play with Rohan Bopanna", announced Anil Khanna, President, India Tennis Association.

On numerous occasions earlier, both Bhupati and Paes had said that it was not an individual player’s decision but that of the AITA to decide on the best team available. But when AITA decided to team the duo together, Bhupati refused to partner Paes and wrote a letter to the association regarding his decision. Responding to the letter, AITA decided to ask Rohan Bopanna to partner him instead. However, the situation became more chaotic when Bopanna too followed in Bhupati’s steps, showing more keenness to partner Bhupati instead.  

AITA was in no mood to drop Paes, India’s most successful player, from the Olympic squad. Neither would it want to tarnish his image. Therefore, it was speculated that Bopanna and Bhupati would either be banned, or would face some disciplinary action. But AITA had a different idea. It decided to send two teams to the Olympics to maintain a balance between the players and the association, asking Paes to team up with a junior player for the sake of the medal.  It is being said that even though Paes was not pleased to be paired with either Vardhan or Yuki Bhambhri, India's External Affairs Minister SM Krishna, who has himself been a tennis player, played a key role in convincing him to pair-up with Vardhan.

The Paes and Bhupati duo, who together won three Grand Slams, including two at the French Open and one at Wimbledon, was once rated a better team, than even the Australian doubles pair of Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge

With Leander still not happy with the decision and even in mood to pull out his participation from the event, it has opened a big time debate on whether players should be given the right to interfere in the board’s decision or not. There has been several cases in different sports where players were not happy with the combination but they played together for the sake of the country.

Meanwhile the mixed doubles event is still in darkness. Sania Mirza, who once had openly justified the Paes-Bhupati split , is back in the limelight. AITA can send Paes and Sania’s names for the mixed doubles event only if Sania gets a wildcard entry on June 28.  Following her French Open 2012 win with Bhupati, Sania had been quoted as describing the pair as an Olympic medal winning combination.

This situation too has become a problem as AITA wanted to pair Bhupati with Sania, following their success rate but Paes also wishes to partner Mirza for the mixed double event. Paes' ranking as World No. 7 and Sania's as World No. 12 gives them a combined rank of 19, which means they qualify directly which Bhupati ranked 15, and she at 27, don't.

Bhupati expressed happiness over AITA’s decision but refused to comment on the mixed doubles event.  "There are a lot of permutations and combinations. But right now I am relieved that I am going to the Olympics with Bopanna. We will speak on the 29th when she gets a wildcard," he said.

The Paes and Bhupati duo, who together won three Grand Slams, including two at the French Open and one at Wimbledon, was once rated a better team, than even the Australian doubles pair of Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge. After winning the Asian Games in 2006, the duo announced they would not play together again, giving a major shock to the association and fans. Even then, keeping their personal problems at bay, they paired up again for the Beijing Olympics hoping for a possible chance at a medal. However the duo lost the quarter finals against the Swiss pair of Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka. The Indian pair reunited again after a gap of nine years on the ATP circuit for the Australian Open in 2011 and even reached the finals. Every Indian tennis fan hoped that the duo would unite for the London Olympics, but for now it seems that London will not see the The Indian Express together. Even as the AITA’s decision assuages the players’ ego and personal problems and puts an end to further drama, it is ultimately Indian tennis which is going to suffer its chance for a medal at the 2012 Olympics.

With inputs from Malvika Bhardwaj

Leander Paes may pull out of the Olympics making it clear for the fans that The Indian Express duo will not be seen playing together in London

Sandeep Kumar Delhi

Read more stories by The curious case of Paes and Bhupati