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Leander-Mahesh set for another split

The Indian tennis grapevine is abuzz with rumours of another fallout between the two veterans, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi. Sukhwant Basra reports.

sports Updated: Nov 16, 2011 02:12 IST
tennis

Leander-Paes-left-and-Mahesh-Bhupathi--HT-Photo

Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi won the Paris Masters on Sunday but are unlikely to be seen together on the Tour next year. The Indian tennis grapevine is abuzz with rumours of another fallout between the two veterans, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi. It has been learnt that Bhupathi is set to partner Bopanna on the Tour next year, while Paes is looking for someone with younger legs to bolster his chances.

While the news may cause some distress for fans of the Lee-Hesh combo, what’s more worrying for the national federation is that the fresh hostility between the two may have an adverse impact on India’s Davis Cup campaign. Then, the federation is also vexed by the issue of just which pair will represent India in the 2012 London Olympics.

Paes has been in the good books of the national body ever since he backed away from Bhupathi’s suggestion of forming a joint front to take over the reins of tennis governance in India. That was way back in 2006. Then, Bhupathi’s regular comments against the body, while being spot on, have done nothing to endear him to the present office-bearers. This was exemplified by the All India Tennis Association denying him the chance of being awarded India’s highest sporting honour.

The federation sat on his application for Khel Ratna in 2006 — he had won the ’05 Wimbledon and US Open mixed doubles titles and followed that up with the Australian Open mixed title in January 2006. Paes, meanwhile, has never publicly criticised the men in power.

As far as the Davis Cup and the Olympics are concerned, the doubles combo India fields is up to the selection committee, which is likely to ask Paes and Bhupathi to keep playing together for the flag, no matter what their personal equation.

In this scenario, things are likely to turn murky if Bhupathi and Bopanna manage to give a credible performance before India’s next Cup tie in March. Wins on the Tour will bolster their case of playing together in the Davis Cup. The same holds true for London next year. Also, one does wonder just which way will Bopanna eventually swing in case he and Qureshi manage to do well in the season-ending World Tour Finals next week.

India’s number one player Somdev Devvarman has so far kept away from the politics of the sport. However, now he is managed by Bhupathi’s company, Globosport. If his commercial and personal interests collude, he could lend his weight to the Bhupathi-Bopanna camp, leaving Paes isolated within the team.

The crucial cog in this whole deal, of course, is Bopanna. Over the years, he has made overtures to Paes to partner him on the tennis circuit. Word has it that he had approached the veteran again this time and that the two were set to partner in 2012 before the deal soured and Bopanna instead chose to go with Bhupathi.