The surprising part of the Doha episode concerning Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi was the public criticism of Bhupathi's fitness by team coach Nandan Bal after the pair's loss against Chinese Taipei in the team championship. Stories of flare-ups between Paes and Bhupathi had ceased to shock. But Bal's open disapproval of Bhupathi in a match in which Paes too had struggled was unexpected.
According to former Davis Cupper Gaurav Natekar, one of the reasons behind the tension between Bal and Bhupathi is their clashing coaching ambitions. Bal has a thriving coaching set-up in Pune, mainly at the Deccan Gymkhana. But his contract with the Gymkhana expires on December 31.
To win the plum assignment would mean competing with the Mahesh Bhupathi Tennis Academies (MBTA), of which Natekar is director, in the tenders process. MBTA has thrown its hat in the ring for the contract.
“Nandan has been critical about Mahesh in his articles in the Pune press,” Natekar told the HT on Thursday. “The timing of those articles seems to suggest some insecurity on Nandan's part towards MBTA's Pune plans.”
Bhupathi, "training and recharging" in London, did not say much apart from, "I hope that (insecurity) was not the reason Nandan slandered me in Doha. He said once he has a few thousand kids playing under him in Pune. If that is the case he should not feel threatened."
Bal refuted the theory that MBTA's Pune dreams had anything to do with his equation with Bhupathi. “Mahesh has academies all over India and he is welcome to start one in Pune,” Bal told HT on Friday. “We are professionals, after all.”
With its history and eleven courts, the Deccan Gymkhana is the headquarter of Pune tennis. It has also been a Nandan Bal stronghold. The former National champion and Davis Cupper has coached at the club for more than ten years.
“Nandan Bal has been with us for over a decade, but his contract ends on Dec 31,” said Vishwas Lokare, secretary, Deccan Gymkhana. “As per norms we have invited tenders through a newspaper advertisement. We expect them to be filed in eight to ten days. Whichever proposal benefits us will be chosen."