The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mahesh prays for Leander

Calcutta: They had their differences, they threw mud at each other, then they chose to get separated. There was an attempt at reconciliation, but that didn’t last too long. Divorce was inevitable. Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi had grown to be comfortable as estranged partners who once ruled the world of men’s doubles.

Long Island, near New York, was scheduled to provide the old friends a platform for reunion this week. With regular partners, David Rikl and Max Mirnyi, taking a short break before the US Open, the two Indians decided to test their once-famous chemistry at the $380 million ATP meet.

They were the top seeds drawn to meet Brazilians Gustavo Kuerten and Flavio Saretta in the first round.

It never happened. Bhupathi got the terrible news from Paes himself, three days ago.

“On Sunday morning, I got a call from the Orlando hospital where Leander was admitted,” Bhupathi told The Telegraph from New York. “He said he had got an inflammation in the brain and doctors were conducting a number of tests to diagnose what exactly was wrong. Obviously, he would be off tennis for some time.”

Since he didn’t know that Paes felt giddy and had spells of vision-loss during his second-round match at the Cincinnati Masters Series meet last week, Bhupathi had no inkling what was coming.

That very day, in fact, they were supposed to be practising together in the afternoon.

“I was dumbstruck on hearing from Leander about his brain problem… I didn’t know how to react…

“He explained in detail what the doctors were saying pretty matter-of-factly, but I knew he was worried,” Bhupathi said.

Having recovered from that initial shock, Bhupathi has been keeping tabs on Paes’ progress and calling him up daily from his New York flat.

“He’s very irritated that everyone’s come to know of it… I can understand, he’s the type who prefers to be left alone and deal problems with his near and dear ones.”

Having shared an inseparable five-year friendship since they met in 1994, Bhupathi is qualified to speak on Paes.

“He’s always been a very high-spirited person and if anyone can come out of this crisis with flying colours, it’s him.”

Just like the rest of the sporting fraternity, Bhupathi is a worried man. What makes him optimistic is the fact that Paes is getting treated in Orlando.

“Facilities in the US are second to none. He’s under a bunch of very good doctors who have flown in from different parts of the US… there’s no doubt he’s under very able hands.”

He’s not sure whether he’ll fly to Orlando to cheer up Paes in person. “I am undecided as of now… it’ll depend on how he keeps,” said Bhupathi.

Left without a partner for the week, Bhupathi has no option but to spend time on practice courts, rather than get some more matches under his belt before the year’s final Grand Slam.

But that is the last thing on his mind. “I can’t get it (Paes illness) out of my mind, I am just praying he gets well quickly… everything else is secondary at this moment.”

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