Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes.When he split from partner Mahesh Bhupathi in November 2011 after playing together at the ATP World Tour Finals in London, Leander Paes, 40, said he wanted “younger legs and fast serves”. He was hinting that Bhupathi, a year junior, was ageing. At No. 7 in,Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes.When he split from partner Mahesh Bhupathi in November 2011 after playing together at the ATP World Tour Finals in London, Leander Paes, 40, said he wanted “younger legs and fast serves”. He was hinting that Bhupathi, a year junior, was ageing. At No. 7 in the Association of Tennis Professionals’ (ATP) top 10 doubles rankings, Paes had the privilege to pick his mate. This was the second time the two were sparring. The first happened immediately after the duo won the 2001 French Open doubles. They reunited in 2010 after a nine-year gap.The All India Tennis Association (AITA) replaced Bhupathi with 32-year-old Rohan Bopanna, ATP ranked No. 12 in doubles. But eight months later, on June 15, AITA officials changed their mind and said they wanted Bhupathi to partner Paes in the doubles at the London Olympics. They hoped Paes would be happy to pair with Bhupathi, fresh off a triumph with Sania Mirza at the French Open mixed doubles tournament. Bhupathi refused. He wrote to AITA that he did not want to play with Paes. Bopanna followed suit.As a result, Paes, India’s top-ranked player, is now without a partner and has threatened to pull out of the London Olympics, set to begin on July 25. “We cannot condone or reward the drama enacted by Mahesh and Rohan. This would be a bad precedent,” wrote Paes in a letter faxed to aita on June 20.The crisis could also affect India’s chances in mixed doubles in London if AITA manages a wild card for Mirza. If Bhupathi were to be left out of the squad, Mirza would haLeander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi.ve to play mixed doubles with Paes, whom she teamed with to win the Doha Asiad mixed doubles title in 2006.advertisementThe Indian tennis fraternity is stunned. “We all felt Bhupathi, after his French Open win, would fit very well into Leander’s scheme of things. We are trying to sort out the problems,” says Jaideep Mukherjea, former Indian player and now a member of AITA’s Olympic team selection committee.AITA President Anil Khanna woke up late to the crisis, which has been brewing since the duo, nicknamed the Indian Express, derailed. He spoke to Paes in London on June 17 and then called up Bhupathi and Bopanna in Mumbai. He pointed out that only the Bryan brothers of the US (Mike and Bob) play together in all tournaments, including the Olympics. “This is the Olympics. Do it for the nation. Your magic will work in London,” Khanna pleaded with them.Khanna told both Bhupathi and Bopanna that by refusing to play with Paes, they were violating an AITA agreement-mandatory for all ranked tennis players in India-which commits them to “play unconditionally for the country”. The two did not budge. Worse, Bhupathi called up Union Sports Minister Ajay Maken on June 18 and sought his intervention. Maken asked Khanna why he could not send two teams. AITA then thought of selecting two doubles teams (Bhupathi-Bopanna and Paes-yet-to-be-decided partner) but didn’t do so because then they would have been compelled to choose either Somdev Dev Varman, ATP-ranked 259th in singles and recovering from an injury to his right shoulder, or Yuki Bhambri, ATP-ranked 218, to partner Paes, the country’s best player. When Khanna told Maken that it would be an insult to Paes, the minister quickly stepped back, leaving the decision to the tennis federation. “The sports ministry leaves it to AITA to exercise any of the options in the best national interest. We will speak to players if they need to be spoken to,” said Maken. On June 21, AITA finally decided to send two doubles teams, one with Bhupathi-Bopana and the other with Paes and Vishnu Vardhan, ranked 207 in ATP doubles.Paes, a bronze medallist at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, merely said he wanted to play with Bopanna for “professional reasons” and that the latter had agreed to do so in an email sent to him on October 18, 2011. But it had little effect on June 15. Both Bopanna and Bhupathi listed a string of reasons, all very personal, for not wanting to partner Paes. Top of the list of Bhupathi’s grievances was a total breakdown in communication between him and Paes. Bopanna said he was “shocked and insulted” after Paes badmouthed him following their Davis Cup doubles loss to Uzbekistan in March this year. “He screamed at me in front of everyone in the court. It was very, very insulting. I am comfortable playing with Mahesh,” Bopanna told Khanna.AITA officials told india today Bhupathi was livid that Paes had asked for Bopanna without his knowledge at a time-October 2011-when they were still playing together. Bopanna relayed the offer from Paes to Bhupathi. Bopanna then sacrificed a highly successful association with Pakistan’s Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi and started playing with Bhupathi.advertisementThe last straw, apparently, was the Davis Cup tie in Uzbekistan. Bhupathi claims Paes wanted to keep him out of the Indian squad. AITA dropped Bhupathi to accommodate Bhambri, citing Paes’ triumph in the Australian Open doubles competition with the Czech Republic’s Radek Stepanek as partner.Bhupathi believes that AITA is cut up with him because his sports management company, Globosport, has been successfully organising atp and Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) events in India without involving the tennis association, getting stars such as Serena Williams, Martina Hingis, Mary Pierce and Martina Navratilova to play in the country.This may well be the biggest double fault in the history of Indian tennis.
Face-off between friends turned foes Hesh and Lee threatens to smash India’s Olympic dream