Normally, Leander Paes talks and Mahesh Bhupathi stays quiet. On Thursday, it was the other way around. Bhupathi, 33, spoke his mind on the controversy tearing Indian tennis apart. Paes, 34, attended a press conference to announce the Terry Fox Run in Mumbai but did not say a word on the issue.
"I'm ready to talk," Mahesh said in a text message from Memphis, where he is playing an ATP Tour event. "No tennis questions," Paes told journalists at the press conference in Mumbai.
Excerpts from the phone conversation with Bhupathi:
The AITA met in New Delhi today. There are no changes in the team. What is your stand now?
I understand Anil Khanna (the AITA secretary-general) will speak to us today. Let me see what he says. But our stand remains the same.
What do you have to say about the events of the last few days?
I tried to stay out of it as much as I could. But I'm tired about the allegations and assumptions. There was Naresh Kumar saying I'm always cooking stuff up. There was Vece Paes (Leander's father) saying I'm causing trouble. I'm not. The boys (Prakash Amritraj and Rohan Bopanna) wanted to address the issues. It was their call.
And let's not forget that in 1998, Leander pulled out from one tie (against Italy in Genoa) because he did not want to play under Jaideep Mukherjea (though Paes' official reason for staying out was injury). At the time I was playing three matches in three days (singles and doubles). Leander did not even tell that he was opting out.
Who’s to blame for this episode?
The AITA is the biggest culprit. Most Davis Cup teams have a non-playing captain (in fact, all the 16 teams in the elite World Group have non-playing captains). They made Leander the captain when he was playing both singles and doubles. Leander has leadership qualities. Even when the two of us played as a pair, he was the leader of the team. But to play singles, doubles and lead the team in Davis Cup meant there was huge pressure on him. He made some wrong calls and now it's blown up in his face.
After the Asian Games, you said you didn't want to play for India. Now you made yourself available for Olympics. Why the flip-flop?
Yes, I needed to play Davis Cup if I'm to play the Olympics. I would have been soaking up the sun in the Bahamas otherwise.
What's the solution?
The AITA used this incident to make it a Paes vs Bhupathi issue. I'm willing to step down. Then they won't have a scapegoat and will be forced to tackle the main issue, which is the players are not comfortable playing under Leander.
We could have someone else in the captain's chair - Anand Amritraj, Vijay Amritraj.. Once the players are comfortable with the idea of playing under Leander, he can become captain again.
You play only doubles. Are you offering to step down because your place in the team was at risk?
I never felt my place was under threat. There is a theory that you want to take over the AITA. I don't. Someone came to me and my father with a proposal and we heard him out. That's all.
Do you think the AITA sees you as a rival?
That may or may not be the case but the AITA's not my rival.