Mahesh Bhupathi and the administrative powers of Indian tennis are again heading for a confrontation. This time, it is over the Beijing Olympics.
Last Thursday, Bhupathi wrote an email to Anil Khanna, secretary-general, the All India Tennis Association (AITA), saying that despite his efforts, there was no communication between him and Leander Paes. Without “communication and preparation”, Bhupathi said, he and Paes did not stand a medal chance in Beijing. As a result, he preferred to play the Olympics with Rohan Bopanna.
Khanna was in no mood to accept Bhupathi’s suggestion. “Who to play with is not Bhupathi’s wish, it is the Indian Olympic Association’s (IOA) and the All India Tennis Association’s (AITA),” Khanna told the Hindustan Times on Tuesday evening. “We have to field the team with the best chance. And as we said in the AITA’s meeting on February 28, that team is Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes.”
Bhupathi and the AITA are also disagreeing over the way the team should prepare for the Olympics. Bhupathi feels he and Paes should compete in a few ATP Tour events. Khanna, on the other hand, has a weeklong camp in mind.
“Unless we communicate and play some tournaments together before the Olympics, we don’t have a medal chance,” Bhupathi told HT in Mumbai on Tuesday. “I reached out to Leander in different ways, but I haven’t received a response. I don’t want to go to Beijing to make up the numbers. I would rather play with Rohan. We have played on a few occasions and we get along well.”
Khanna said, "A camp will serve the purpose. If they can play a few events, well and good."
Technically India can send two teams but if Bhupathi makes it to the top-10 by June 9, the cut-off date as per the Olympc rules, he can nominate a partner of his choice. He would still need it to be endorsed by the IOA and the AITA though.
Khanna said that at the 2006 Asian Games, he had not allowed Bhupathi's fitness problems and the feud with Paes to derail the gold-medal winning campaign. He expected Bhupathi to reciprocate. Bhupathi though said he would stick to his stand.
Paes did not answer calls. At a press conference in New Delhi, he said, “We are quite satisfied with our training programmes and looking at nothing but the gold in Beijing.” Paes also said, "We have played together for around eight years... We are true contenders in Beijing.”