There was a time when there was no stopping the Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi combine on the tennis court — a little over a decade ago, when they ruled consistently as the World’s No 1 doubles pair. Today too there’s no stopping the Lee-Hesh combine, but unfortunately, in an off-court mud-slinging encounter.
What a mess! India tennis players Mahesh Bhupathi (left), Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna (right)
Moments after Bhupathi told a television channel yesterday that Paes lied and backstabbed him when he split their combination earlier this year to partner a foreigner, an insider from the Paes camp revealed that in fact, it has been the other way round.
Back in 2002...
“Back in 2002, just about a year after Bhupathi and Leander won their second French Open title (2001), Bhupathi split with Paes and chose to partner Belarusian Max Mirnyi. The whole episode happened almost overnight and Leander was left in the lurch at a time when he needed Mahesh.
“Then, last year, Rohan emailed Paes in a bid to partner him for the Olympics. Rohan even emailed the entire ATP calendar clearly marking out the Grand Slams and the Olympics besides optional Tour events. However, when Paes told him that he could not assure him a spot on the Olympic team as selection matters are handled by the AITA (All India Tennis Association), Rohan switched over to Bhupathi, who immediately called up Leander to inform him that he and Rohan would be playing together for the season. If this is not back-stabbing then what is,” the source told MiD DAY yesterday.
Meanwhile, earlier in the day yesterday, Bhupathi called upon sports minister Ajay Maken to intervene in the issue involving AITA picking him and Paes to represent India at the upcoming Olympics. “The stance taken by AITA of refusing to nominate a team (Bhupathi-Bopanna) that has legitimately qualified, and instead nominating two players (Paes, Bhupathi) who have failed in four previous Olympics and who have not played together this year is bemusing and difficult for to understand,” wrote Bhupathi.
Consequently, the sports ministry has asked for an explanation from the AITA. “The government has been funding and supporting multiple players to train and qualify for the Olympics. The justification of denying two players who have qualified as a team on merit buy sending just one Indian team, when India can send two teams, may be explained,” wrote the ministry.
Thereafter, late last evening Paes wrote a letter to the AITA claiming: “When I sent you my unconditional participation in the Olympics, I believed we would put our best team forward for a gold medal. By setting up a second team, as suggested by some, you would create a situation where your No 1 player and the only Indian in the Top 10 ATP doubles rankings would have to play with the No 5 Indian player. This would not be fair,” Paes wrote.