Paes and Bhupathi play a near-perfect match to open India’s account against Russia on Saturday.
Throw lambs to the wolves and a massacre is only to be expected. Igor Kunitsyn and Teimuraz Gabashvili are babes in the pressure cauldron of World Group Davis Cup doubles. Then, against a pair that has 22 Grand Slam titles between them and the longest winning streak in the history of the competition, they really did not stand much of a chance.
The 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 execution in an hour and 36 minutes was clinical doubles tennis at its best. The men across the net really stood no chance as Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi notched their 23rd straight match. To put things into perspective, the second best pair ever is John McEnroe and Peter Fleming who are far behind our twosome with 14 straight wins. The value of this pair is such that a captain goes into the tie with the comfort that one match is most likely to come his way. “That lets us focus on the singles. But the importance of these two only comes through if we split the singles on the first day. Now, third day is an uphill task for us,” says non-playing captain SP Misra.
Misra is quite candid that as of now India does not have the option to experiment with a team that is minus the two. “There are really no singles options as of now for a tie of this level. Both Yuki (Bhambri) and Sanam (Singh) are immature and without the experience to perform at this level. I would rather have them here to assure us of a doubles point,” says Misra.
Summing up the outing Bhupathi was to-the-point: “Very solid. No errors. Didn’t let them in at all. This is our best match since the tie against America in 2001.” Paes concurred: “One of the smoothest doubles matches at this level. Couldn’t have asked for more.” The Russians were left speechless. “What can I say? We were outclassed. They are a far superior team,” reacted Kunitsyn when asked to explain the easy win for India.
Bhupathi was a bit rusty going in but then the two were not really challenged as the Russians had nothing to throw at the doubles specialists ranked in the top-10 in the world. “This is the best doubles I have seen them play from start to finish,” said coach Nandan Bal who first got involved with the team in a support role way back in 1994. “They have a tendency to slacken when ahead, especially in the third set. We saw none of that out there today.”
On Sunday Somdev Devvarman is set to take on Mikhail Youzhny while Kunitsyn faces Rohan Bopanna. But, substitutions are allowed an hour before the first ball is struck. Paes has been quiet eager to get out there for a dead rubber, if it so happens. Perhaps we may get to see some more of his magic in this tie.
And it goes on...
Leander Paes’ daughter Aiyanna has a special name for Mahesh Bhupathi. She calls him ‘scarey face’. The grammar may not be there but the sentiment sure is. One would presume that the love, or rather the lack of it, between our two top doubles players may have got the kid going along these lines, till one learns that that is what Paes has been telling her Bhupathi is called. The rapport between the kid and Bhupathi, however, is quiet endearing. The two play peek-a-boo games all the time. In fact, the rapport between the players, who have in the past flung all sorts of allegations against each other, is also quite incredible during this tie. There is loads of leg pulling, but there is no trace of malice in it. And thats much to the disgust of Paes’ father Vece. No, the good doctor does not wish the two to fight in public, he’s just annoyed as to why they can’t get over their “silly” differences and “egos” to play together more often.
Lassi or the belly?
There’s an Indian restaurant that has become the team’s daily dinner haunt. The food is passably good but it is far removed from any Indian restaurant we have back home. To begin with, there’s the belly dancers. Yup. Every day, a new one.
Haunting Arabic music begins to pound after set intervals and out slithers a woman with assets just there and the jiggle everywhere.
The Russians obviously cant’s make out that the music is not Indian, for that matter, neither is belly dancing, but then the dance is so vigorous while being tasteful that it does add to the experience. Food apart, the ladies may just be possibly another reason why the team has adopted the place. Or perhaps its just the mango lassi — a concoction that no self-respecting Punjab da puttar would imbibe — that the guys down glassfuls of with incredible alacrity.