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Paes of regret and the true lies

sports Updated: Apr 13, 2008 01:25 IST
Akshay Sawai

You were right. They are starting to eat a lot of Japanese in India. India's Davis Cup tie against Japan started on Friday. By Saturday afternoon, the hosts had gobbled up the visitors. Only instead of chopsticks, they used racquets.

India played a strong team and were home 3-0 by Day Two. How often does this happen? It was a truly brave performance by Rohan Bopanna and Prakash Amritraj, who won five-set singles matches in sweltering New Delhi.

A glorious memory, however, was tinged with intrigue. Thanks to Leander Paes. On Friday, an interview quoted the captain saying, "Playing with Mahesh (Bhupathi) was the biggest mistake of his career."

The timing couldn't have been worse. The company to which the interview was given, thrilled that they had snagged a scoop, issued a press statement revealing the juicy bits from the conversation. They did this on Friday, the opening day of the match. Imagine the scene. The team was already fighting. Just a few weeks ago, the players had staged a coup against Leander. They agreed to play against Japan only after the All India Tennis Association, after a special meeting, asked them to.

There was the pressure of the game as well. Japan were not an easy team. In this already fraught atmosphere, comes an interview in which Leander disses Mahesh. If not for Rohan and Prakash's heroics, it could have been… disastro!

What is it with Leander these days? After Friday's matches, he said his statement about Mahesh was taken out of context by the interviewers. What he meant was that he regretted sacrificing his singles career for doubles.

Well, whose fault was it? You made a choice. You succumbed to the temptation of easier, if not easy money and victories. You enjoyed the nearly million dollar annual earnings and the trophies and the Hugo Boss suits. Why complain now?

We can probably accept the essence of what Leander said — regret over a career move — but not his choice of words. "Worst" decision? Saying "Mahesh" when he should have said "doubles"? Unfair.

But this is not it. Further into the interview, Leander says things that are impossible to condone. They are factually incorrect, and reveal the extent of his kink for melodrama.

Example one: "I regret the fact that I sacrificed my singles career for him. I had WON the Pilot Pen International beating the top players of the world, including Pete Sampras, and reached world ranking of 73 in 1998."

No Leander. You didn't win the Pilot Pen. You beat Sampras but you lost to Goran Ivanisevic in the quarterfinal.

Example two: "I was diagnosed with cancer in 2003…" Huh? You were not diagnosed with cancer, Leander. It was a cancer scare. You had neurocysticercosis, a parasitic infection that causes a brain abscess.

This was the second time he claimed to have confronted cancer. In Mumbai during the Terry Fox Run launch recently, he said, "Being a former cancer patient, I feel for his (Terry's) effort."

Not only is this an exaggeration of reality, but also insensitive to cancer patients. It is obvious now that whatever Leander says needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. It beats you. A man of Leander's achievement and charm could have had the world eating out of his hands. He could have swung deals, built bridges for Indian tennis, set it up for the future. Instead, he pandered his ego, fought petty battles and is now in danger of scarring his reputation.

Leander is still only 34. His post-tennis life lies ahead of him. As well-wishers — though he sees us as his enemies — we pray he sees the error of his ways.