Calcutta: The most ‘low-key’ engagement of Mahesh Bhupathi’s Calcutta visit also happened to be the most sought-after topic for the Fourth Estate.
Shortly after checking into the Hyatt Regency — the sponsors of his trip — on Monday morning, the seven-time Grand Slam champion drove down to another five-star destination to meet a very special Calcuttan: Sourav Ganguly.
It was the tennis star’s call, not the India cricket captain’s. “It was a very personal meeting, I didn’t want it to be a publicised affair,” Bhupathi said at the afternoon press conference, disappointing many.
Personal indeed. The meeting, The Telegraph has learnt, was meant to seek Sourav’s involvement and advice regarding a trust which Bhupathi has started recently. He is trying to raise money for certain sportspersons and who better than Sourav to get involved in the project.
The India captain excused himself from the exclusive lunch the sponsors and Jaidip Mukerjea Tennis Academy (JMTA) jointly hosted in Bhupathi’s honour. And so, the limelight at the post-lunch conference was entirely hogged by the tennis champion.
Is he thinking of visiting this city regularly on coaching assignments' “Calcutta doesn’t need me, there is no shortage of good coaches here. Jaidip Sir, Akhtar Ali, Naresh Kumar and Leander are all from this city,” Bhupathi remarked, adding that he could make some more trips once the trainees at JMTA have graduated to the next level.
Questions on Paes were inevitable. And Bhupathi scored a Perfect Ten with his answers. “We still depend a lot on him winning his singles matches in Davis Cup… I am hoping Leander can go on playing as long as his legs can carry him.”
How would he describe the ‘encounters’ with his ex-partner of three Grand Slam conquests' “It’s always tough playing against him… it boils down to which team plays better on a certain day.”
The focus then shifted to the academy, which was all dolled up to welcome a modern-day icon. And if one were to go by the attendance at the two-and-a-half hour clinic, Calcutta should soon be producing Leander Paes II! Even Jaidip confessed he hadn’t expected so many kids to turn up.
“The enthusiasm and the urge to learn is certainly there, I can see it in their eyes. The key is to enjoy the game, I keep telling kids at my father’s academy,” Bhupathi said in between sparring with boys and girls ranging from 7-8 to 14-15.
The serving and volleying lessons over, it was pack-up time. Bhupathi had an evening flight to catch, so checkout had to be by 7 pm.
Delhi is his next destination, followed by Mumbai, both for business purpose. Then another week in Hyderabad with wife Shweta, before Bhupathi gets back to the grind — at the Montreal Masters Series in a fortnight’s time.