Which Indian is one of the best left court doubles players in the world? Which is one of the greatest from the right side? The answers are Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes, and that's the pairing selectors should be looking at to represent India at the London Olympics.
However, things in Indian tennis can never be that simple, because a supine federation has, for far too long, allowed players to run roughshod over any pretence of country before self.
Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna have written to the national body that unless the two are proposed as a team, they won't be too happy. They suggest that they play together while the highest ranked Indian doubles player, Paes, be paired with some other junior player.
This has the selectors miffed. Bopanna does not inspire their confidence. His sub-standard performance against a second-rate doubles team in the Davis Cup tie against Uzbekistan (while pairing with Paes) has raised concerns about his ability to put personal animosity on the backburner when representing the nation. Then, he is also a natural left court player who has been grappling with the right side only on account of his pairing with Bhupathi. Of course, Paes and Bhupathi are strangely gifted individuals who hate each other yet come together to make magic on court. They have often claimed that they can do this as they are able to put country before self.
Self before nation
However, your correspondent can't help but burst into guffaws of disdain every time the tennis brigade raises the 'in service of the nation' flag. All three players put aside national interest to play the Tour finals at London instead of the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games.
Bopanna was not even in the main draw but chose to hang around instead of rushing to China despite the federation's pleas. In April ‘06, Paes’ priority was to be close to his partner in the last stages of her pregnancy. As captain, he had the Davis Cup tie against Pakistan organised on courts laid on a cricket ground in Mumbai.
Bhupathi had stated after the 2006 Doha Asiad that he would not play lower level Davis Cup ties as India did not need him. So, when these guys go on about national service, do remember that the same comes at their own convenience; they don't go out of their way to do the nation a favour.
The selectors, who meet at Bangalore on June 15, would rather send a team that they believe is the best medal prospect for India. This correspondent is skeptical about the prospect of a medal, but would still opt for Paes and Bhupathi, no matter how overweight one appears to be while the other continues to struggle with his fitness.
Left to them, both would rather partner Bopanna. Since the two have been playing together from the beginning of the year, Bhupathi feels they have the best chance. Paes has limited confidence in Bhupathi's fitness and therefore wants Bopanna. The latter's big serve only helps.
The funny bit is that both are calling selectors and pressing their case ‘for the sake of the nation’.