Mahesh Bhupathi on Monday said the men’s doubles team paid the price for lack of practice at the Rio OIympics, slamming the pair for the first-round exit.
Asked if his former partner Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna were under-prepared for the Games, Bhupathi said: “Underprepared? There were no preparations at all. They didn’t play matches together. Even when Leander and I were not playing together on tour in 2004 and 2008, we always came together and played a few tournaments and that’s what Olympics demands. This year they went in cold… One match against a dilapidated Korean Davis Cup team is not the way to prepare for the Olympics. Our best shot was in the mixed doubles but were unfortunate.”
Bhupathi, however, wasn’t harsh on the women’s doubles team that crashed out in the first round as well. “They put in a lot of practice time. She (Prarthana Thombare) practices in Sania’s academy. Though they couldn’t get into a tournament to practice together given the difference in their individual rankings, I feel they gave it their best shot,” said Bhupathi on the sidelines of the opening ceremony of an inter-school table tennis tournament.
The mixed doubles team of Sania and Bopanna came closest to a medal in Rio but lost to Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram in the semifinals, and Radek Stepanek/Lucie Hradecka in the bronze-medal match. “It was unlucky. We were so close… 3-1 up in the super tie-breaker, 6-2 in the first set; well, one just has to credit Venus for the kind of tennis she produced from the other end,” said Bhupathi.
“There was a lot of talk about who would represent the country and I’m sure that’s going to be the scenario for the next three Olympics as well.” Taking a dig at Union Sports Minister Vijay Goel, who referred to Sakshi Malik and PV Sindhu as gold medallists, he added: “In a country where such comments fly around, speculations are bound to go on as well. Unfortunately, Olympic Games come around once in four years unlike Grand Slams that come four times in a year.”
Bhupathi, who holds the Davis Cup record for the longest winning streak (23) in doubles with Paes, heaped praise on Saketh Myneni ahead of his US Open fixture against Jiri Vesely. “To have an Indian player competing in the singles category is a huge achievement for the nation. He has a decent draw against Vesely and hopefully he’ll have a good outing with his big serve,” he added.
Bhupathi was critical of Davis Cup matches being played under floodlights. “I don’t know the justification behind such decisions. The officials should always speak to the teams concerned before taking such decisions,” he said. “I’ve spoken to a few players who would have preferred to play during the day. The match against Spain is a tough one and things like playing in the right conditions and surface matter.”