The long-standing war between the country’s two tennis stalwarts — Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi --- flared up again on Sunday with the two having a go at each other following India’s 4-1 win over Uzbekistan in the Davis Cup Asia/Oceania Group 1 Round 2 match in Bangalore.
The trigger was Paes’ statement on Thursday after he was not included in the squad with non-playing captain Mahesh Bhupathi opting for Rohan Bopanna as the lone doubles specialist in the four-man squad. Leander Paes accused Bhupathi of showing bias, claiming he changed the selection criterion from form to ranking, and walked out of the squad.
Both issued fresh statements on Sunday, Mahesh Bhupathi on the social media and Leander Paes through his company Brand Leander late in the night.
War of words
Bhupathi, who had kept quiet on Thursday when Leander Paes went hammer and tongs at him, fired the first salvo on Sunday when a Whatsapp conversation between him and Paes was put out in the social media. Through the screen shot of that chat, Bhupathi tried to claim Paes had agreed to join the Davis Cup squad in Bangalore despite being told there was no guarantee he will be in the final four.
The import of the conversation, which Paes claimed were ‘leaked’, was that Paes was made aware that Bhupathi was going ahead with three singles and one doubles specialist against Uzbekistan and that he would take a call on doubles only on Wednesday. In the conversation, Bhupathi left it to Paes to decide if he wanted to be in Bangalore.
Late in the night, Paes responded, claiming the main criterion for selection was form and “that was clearly mentioned in the exchange”. “This was not followed when it came to final selection,” he added.
‘Decision already made’
Paes, who had arrived after winning an event abroad, also said he was never categorically told he would not be playing. “But it was apparent that the decision was made before I arrived in Bangalore . This is what I found unnecessary and disrespectful,” Paes said in his statement.
He also took exception to the conversation with Bhupathi being put out on social media. “That a private exchange has been made public just points to the kind of conduct that I find unbecoming of a Davis Cup captain,” he said.
He added, “As for the long post on social media by Mahesh belittling my contribution to Davis Cup, I can give a detailed rebuttal pointing out just how one-sided and convoluted his arguments are. I may do so in the near future but as far as the fans out there are concerned, they just have to examine who won what for our country when representing the flag.
“Talk is cheap, history books, however, don’t lie.”