Teddy Sheringham and Andy Cole were sworn enemies, yet they scored over 60 goals in tandem for Manchester United. Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virender Sehwag are not exactly on talking terms. They won a World Cup together.
Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli aren’t the best of pals either, but they guided India to a memorable victory against Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup recently. What then is stopping the warring duo of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi from pairing up in the Olympics?
Well, it is up to the two individuals but the bad blood between two of India’s most experienced tennis players seems to be getting worse by the day. Bhupathi has called Paes a back-stabber, liar and what not, vowing to never play with him again. On Monday, Rohan Bopanna followed suit, declaring he would not partner Paes. The country’s top-ranked tennis player is without a partner.
What makes Paes such an outcast? Many a story is flying around; the most talked about being Paes’s bid to woo Bopanna without Bhupathi’s knowledge. Paes made that move at a time when Bhupathi was still his partner.
Paes (40) thought, Bhupathi (39) was too old for him. He was looking for someone with younger legs and a fast serve. Bopanna (32) fitted the bill. So Paes offered him a partnership and sold him an Olympic dream. Bopanna did not play ball. He promptly relayed the offer to Bhupathi.
“He was hobnobbing with another partner. When I confronted him, he lied to me.” Bhupathi cannot control his anger. Bopanna and Bhupathi come a long way since their days in Bangalore. Bopanna then sacrificed a highly successful association with Pakistan’s Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi and joined forces with Bhupathi. His Olympic dream lies in tatters.
The last straw, apparently, was the Davis Cup tie in Uzbekistan in March. Grapevine has it that Paes contrived to keep Bhupathi out of the squad. “Lee has always dictated terms in Davis Cup-related matters. He managed to keep Mahesh out of the team against for the Uzbekistan tie. It was the biggest miscalculation of his career,” said a former India tennis player.
AITA dropped Bhupathi to accommodate a younger player like Yuki Bhambri, citing Paes’s performance in the Australian Open. Paes had just won the Open with Radek Stepanek. Bhupathi was told that only four players — two for singles and two for doubles — could make the trip. And hence, he was asked to sit out.
The AITA, it is said, has always backed Paes and it is not without reason. GloboSport — Bhupathi’s company — organised a few ATP and WTA events in India. Players like Serena Williams, Martina Hingis, Mary Pierce, Martina Navratilova came calling and the AITA had little role in those tournaments. It did not go down well with the country’s tennis officials. AITA president Anil Khanna, it is believed, thinks the tournaments undermined his position. Paes has not played with an Indian partner for the last six months. Khanna still picked him ahead of the regular Bhupathi-Bopanna combo.
As for Bopanna’s refusal to play with Paes, there is another story. There is this theory that Paes gave a tongue-lashing to Bopanna after they lost the doubles game in Uzbekistan. It did not go down well with the Coorgi.
The last word on the fracas is yet to be written, but it is unlikely to end with Paes.