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Mahesh: My partnership with Martina did not click

Calcutta: Mahesh Bhupathi is more in the news these days as Sania Mirza’s manager than as a top-notch doubles player. From holding meetings with prospective sponsors and Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu to chalking out her tournament schedule, India’s first Grand Slam title-winner is immersed in the thought of nurturing the country’s first female Grand Slam champion.

Taking an unprecedented four-week off from the Tour has helped, with Bhupathi setting up base in Hyderabad to spend time with wife Shweta who is studying there.

In Calcutta to conduct a clinic at “Jaidip Sir’s” academy, Bhupathi found time from his busy 12-hour trip to speak to The Telegraph on issues ranging from Sania to Martina Navratilova.

The following are excerpts

Q Are you enjoying the role of a tennis manager'

A My company (Globosport) has a very specific role. I am using my experience to help her, show her the right way. My dad’s doing a great job of coaching her, I am doing my bit… trying to manage her career by ensuring she receives the kind of support needed to get established on the Tour.

You have talked of the need for Sania to go for physical training abroad. What about a foreign coach who can travel with her'

We are exploring that too. In fact, I have talked to a couple of foreign coaches who will have a look at her during the US Open. Based on their report and opinion, we’ll take a decision.

For someone who has been seeing her for two-three years, how do you assess her game'

Everyone who has seen her knows she is top-100 material, otherwise she wouldn’t have won junior Wimbledon doubles. Her groundstrokes are of a high quality. Her forehand, particularly, is devastating… it’s on par with the best in the women’s game. Apart from her fitness, she needs to work on her serve. That’s a weak area.

Do you see yourself coaching Sania some day'

No, no. I don’t think I’m cut out for that. I’d rather concentrate on managing her career.

Does the Wimbledon doubles final defeat still rankle'

Any Grand Slam defeat hurts, more so Wimbledon. Mind you, we were playing the defending champions (Todd Woodbridge and Jonas Bjorkman) both of whom are very experienced players. But we had the match under control, taking the first set and being a break up in the second. We shouldn’t have lost it from there.

Did the emotionally-charged victory over Leander Paes and David Rikl drain you out in the final'

No way. As I said, we started wonderfully before losing way. It was a case of not taking our chances, it can happen at times.

The revenge over Leander after the French Open defeat must have been satisfying…

Not satisfying enough after losing the very next match, the final. Had we won the championships, then yes, that victory would have been quite significant.

You played with Martina Navratilova before Leander partnered her in mixed doubles. Do you regret not playing more than just one Slam with her'

Not really. Martina is a great ad-court player, but the only time I played with Martina, she played on the deuce court. We didn’t jell. Leander and Martina make a fabulous team because he is essentially a deuce-court player, so she can jolly well take her favourite side.

You change your mixed doubles partner quite often…

Yeah, I enjoy playing with different partners in mixed doubles. For example, I teamed up with Paula Suarez for the first time at Wimbledon but am still not sure whether I’ll play with her at the US Open. It’s basically a fun event and I get along well with most girls (laughs).

A Grand Slam title has eluded you in 2003 so far. How desperate will you be at the US Open'

I came within two sets of a Slam two weeks ago. But I will have two more chances (men’s and mixed doubles) at the US Open. I will obviously give it my best shot, let’s see what’s in store.

Have you given 2004 a thought yet' Are you working towards getting the Indian Express back on track'

It’s too early to talk of next season. Maybe we’ll give it a thought in October-November. Right now I am happy playing with Max and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t continue next year too. Max and I haven’t talked about it also.

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