It’s not till Tuesday that Mahesh Bhupathi has to get back into his tennis gear and onto the court.
But for the moment, the doubles champ, dressed in a crisp white shirt and blue suit, is busy carrying out his parallel role: that of a businessman and more specifically the face of his company, Globosport. He’s the judge on a reality show for entrepreneurs, The Pitch, and is equally comfortable matching business wits with them, as he is fending off volleys.
“I don’t think business is something I had a natural aptitude for,” he says, during a brief interaction at the shoot taking place in his Mumbai office. “It was one of those things I learnt as I went along. Of course, being a tennis player helped in some ways, the networking, also tennis teaches you problem solving and thinking on your feet. I am as involved in the business as I can be.”
One of his former doubles partners, Mark Knowles, during an interview had called Bhupathi the “Donald Trump” of men’s tennis. While some tennis players have branched out into sports management, it has mostly come as a post-retirement career. But Bhupathi started his company eight years ago, when he was still winning Grand Slams regularly.
“It was a natural transition,” he says. “I didn’t do it because I was thinking of a career after tennis.”
Come next week, off-season training will kick into action for the 37-year-old, who will be pushing to get his body ready for the 16th season on the road. Having split company with Leander Paes, Bhupathi will team up with fellow Indian Rohan Bopanna in 2012. “There is some amount of uncertainty when you go from a successful partnership (he said referring to Bopanna’s remarkable run with Pakistani partner Aisam Qureshi). But we have got good results the few times we’ve teamed up.”
Though not labouring on the split with Paes itself, Bhupathi wasn’t sure he endorsed his former partner’s views. “It was his decision, and I have already said I respect that,” he says, of Paes’ reasoning that they needed younger partners and faster legs to keep up with the nature of professional tennis. “We were the only team to win two Masters titles (in Cincinnati and Miami).”
But Bhupathi has put that in the past and is looking forward to the new partnership. That’s what the business of doubles tennis is all about.