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Time Leander, Mahesh regrouped

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi think they are doing nothing wrong by playing with different doubles partners on the ATP Tour and Grand Slams.

india Updated: Jul 07, 2003 00:36 IST
S. Kannan

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi think they are doing nothing wrong by playing with different doubles partners on the ATP Tour and Grand Slams but the truth is they were known better when they played together.

The two Indians are doing well -- financially and doubles ranking points wise -- but when the BBC TV commentators are on air, they still talk about 1999 Wimbledon. That was the year

'The Indian Express' won the French and Wimbledon, got derailed and then came back together few weeks before the Sydney Olympics.

"Doubles is not just about serving big and power play. There's a lot more to it and the Indians played with such emotion in 1999." These comments were heard Saturday night on air when Pat Cash and Jon Barrett were having a chat during changeovers.

More than Mahesh and Max Mirnyi, a lot of discussion in the commentary box during the men's doubles final revolved around characters who make doubles such a delight to watch.

Mark Woodforde of the 'Woodies' fame packed his racquet almost three years back, but even a day ago Cash was talking about how the Woodies dominated The Championships and why Todd Woodbridge still comes out tops.

The Woodies vs Leander-Mahesh was developing into a fascinating contest. Almost at all the majors they met, this was one battle where sparks flew. And the first time the Woodies heard Leander and Mahesh were splitting, they were pained. After all, the Indians had charisma.

Today, it's not just Pat Cash who seems to talk very little of Mirnyi and Mahesh playing together but a few others as well. Come on, the top seeds were losing on Saturday night, and still most of the conversation revolved around Woodies, John McEnroe/Peter Fleming and Bob Hewitt/Frew McMillan. Yes, that was a different generation altogether.

Leander and Mahesh did have it in them to reach the same heights. They had age, talent and whatever else it takes to succeed in doubles.

Perhaps, what they did not have was the maturity to deal with success and then there were the 'personal differences'.

When the Woodies lasted for close to a decade on the road, it was not as if they were eating every meal together. They also went through the highs and lows, but they stuck together. The Athens Olympics is little over a year away. Winning an Olympic medal is the ultimate glory for sportsmen and perhaps its Mahesh more than Leander who needs it, as the Kolkatan won a singles bronze in 1996.

The last time Leander and Mahesh regrouped just before the Olympics, their ranking had dipped so low they did not get seeded in Sydney.

The end result --- they met the Woodies early and lost out. At that time, it seemed these two famous Indians would never get another shot at Olympic glory.

But the truth is both Leander and Mahesh are still so fit, they can be virtually unbeatable if they pair again. One of the reasons they parted ways was a string of losses last summer.

It is the dream of Indian sports lovers, not just tennis fans, to see these two win a medal in Athens. Yes, they do play well in Davis Cup. But can't that happen all over again? If Leander and Mahesh want us to believe they can win an Olympic medal, they have to regroup on the circuit next year. It's fine to do well as two different professionals, but these days tennis at the Olympics is serious business with ranking points also given.

Fact is all the money Leander and Mahesh make with different partners doesn't really matter to their fans. They would love to see the two playing together again. Are they listening?

First Published: Jul 07, 2003 00:36 IST