They are probably the best loved pair in Indian sport. They are certainly Indian tennis’s greatest team ever. They have won four Grand Slam doubles titles together. But they do not get along with each other -- they have split up, come together and split up again.
On Wednesday, minutes after winning the men’s doubles gold medal for India at the Doha Asian Games, Mahesh Bhupathi slammed partner Leander Paes and said it was their last match together.
“After all that has happened in the week gone by, all I can say is that this was our last match together,” an emotional Bhupathi told HT soon after his drug test. “Once we lost to the Chinese Taipei in the team event, the playing captain (Paes) told me to my face that he thought he had a better chance to win the gold with Rohan Bopanna as his partner. I was ready to pack my bags and leave, but Anil Khanna (secretary, All India Tennis Association) intervened and Paes and I teamed up.”
Bhupathi said he had told Khanna two months ago that he did not want to play in the Asian Games. “They (Anil and Paes) convinced me to play, and then all this drama unfolded,” he said. “Leander and I have had huge successes. But I do not want to play with Leander any more as he has questioned my commitment to India. I had told him I would get better with every match and that is how we won.”
Bhupathi also found fault with Indian team coach Nandan Bal. “After Leander and I lost the team doubles event to the Chinese Taipei team, Nandan, on television, questioned my fitness and commitment,” he said. “As long as these two men are around, I will not play the Davis Cup.”
So will he never play for India again? “I am available whenever Indian needs me, but yes, I will not play with Leander ever again,” he said. “I would have loved to play in the Davis Cup, but these people make me feel unwanted.”
Bhupathi, who has won 10 Grand Slam titles, went a step further. “In terms of prize money earned or titles won, records show I stand ahead of everyone else in Indian tennis currently,” he said.
He has already made his plans for the next season. “In 2007, I will be playing with Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic,” he said.
This spells the end of the Lee-Hesh partnership. And also the end of India's dreams of a doubles tennis medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.