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Bhupathi’s Mirnyi partnership uncertain

Calcutta: A security scare at the New York airport forced Mahesh Bhupathi (and rest of the passengers and crew) off the plane he was due to travel in, to Mumbai, Sunday. That surely was an unnerving experience, coming so close to the first anniversary of the 9/11 WTC bombings.

But that incident is already out of his mind. What is worrying the seven-time Grand Slam winner is a basic question: who his partner will be next season.

Yes, Mahesh Bhupathi has had to start looking at the future, even though his latest Grand Slam acquisition is not in the mantelpiece yet.

Having got a partner with whom he gelled like high-quality adhesive, post-Leander Paes, Bhupathi is not sure whether he would be able to sustain that partnership with Max Mirnyi in 2003. The six-foot-five-inch Belarussian has expressed a desire to focus on singles next year, which would affect his doubles commitment.

“Max feels he has some good singles left in him and wants to concentrate on that to see whether he can push his ranking up,” Bhupathi told The Telegraph.

“That leaves our future as a team uncertain.”

The 25-year-old Mirnyi, winner of four doubles majors (two in men’s and two mixed), has had a decent run in singles this year. His maiden Grand Slam quarter-final appearance at the US Open last week was preceded by two semi-final entries in ATP events (Sydney and Hamburg, where he scalped Pete Sampras).

That is precisely what has encouraged the Florida resident from Minsk to dream big. Having established himself as an accomplished doubles player, though, Mirnyi is unlikely to strike doubles off his 2003 schedule totally.

Even if Mirnyi plays doubles in the big events next year, his association with Bhupathi may not work out. “I have to look at someone with whom I can play fairly regularly… As of now, doesn’t seem Max will be playing too many doubles events in 2003,” the 28-year-old Bangalorean said.

Right now, there’s no way he can ‘fix’ a partner for next season. “I’ll have to wait till October-November for a clearer picture to emerge,” Bhupathi explained. “There’s unlikely to be too many choices from top players as most of them are likely to continue with their old partners. I have to keep fingers crossed…”

A reunion with Paes is not an option Bhupathi will be considering. “As far as I am concerned, I had not closed the door on playing with him (Paes) again. But he said recently that he doesn’t want to pair with me again… Well, if he feels so strongly I guess there’s no point bringing it up,” observed the US Open doubles champion.

Just to refresh memories, the last time Paes and Bhupathi played on the same side of the court, they lifted the winners’ trophy. That was in Mallorca (Spain) in May. And yes, that was two months after they had split.

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