Predictably, Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna’s pre-event press conference at the Chennai Open began with a question over their choice of team for the Olympics.
Predictably, Bhupathi said that given a choice he’d like this team, unimaginatively named the ‘New Indian Express’, to represent India at the London Games.
The three matches they played in Chennai, before losing in the semifinal, is too little an evidence to pass a judgment on how well Bhupathi-Bopanna might click on the tour in the seven months leading up to the event.
But in those seven days, or four matches, there was enough proof that Leander Paes is the best doubles player in the country. And, unless unfit, should be the first name on that doubles squad list.
To begin with, his partner for the week Janko Tipsarevic’s priority was the singles event. Not only did this mean that the Serb played two matches in a day, in the semis and the finals, with the doubles always played later, but also that Paes rarely got to practice with him. His sparring partners were thus mainly the wide-eyed local youngsters.
More importantly, while legs carry the singles players, it’s the hands and head that matter when it comes to doubles.
In the first round against Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil, Paes should have been blown over by their massive serves. But the 38-year-old taught his young opponents a vital lesson of precision over power.
While a little rusty to begin the tournament, he ended it with unmasked ferocity. The match tie-break in the semifinal, where Paes-Tipsarevic fought back from 0-5 down, and the final against Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich, where Tipsarevic was an almost spent force, saw the Indian really step it up.
He was flying at the net. Doing Superman impressions-- the best a guy of his size can -leaping, stretching, cutting the ball mid-flight. Paes was a man in a hurry to win.
This instinct you can’t teach. And as Bhupathi is finding out, it’s a bloody difficult thing to learn.
He is too experienced a player and a businessman to invest his time and effort into a dud project. And the Bhupathi-Bopanna combo, armed with two big serves, did show signs of improvement with each outing in Chennai and could still take off on the tour. But results alone won’t be enough to negate Paes’ obvious skills of the trade.