| Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes during practice at the al-Khalifa tennis compound in Doha on Wednesday. (AFP)
Doha: After a day-long drama, it was back to square one. The All India Tennis Association (AITA), which hastily called for a ‘trial’ on Wednesday morning to select the combinations for the doubles events in the Asian Games here, finally decided to continue with Leander Paes-Mahesh Bhupathi.
But then, Leander made no secret of the fact that he was the most reluctant buyer of this AITA theory. After the draw was made in the evening, the Indian captain told journalists that he was only abiding by the AITA decision.
“Yesterday (Tuesday), I had a talk with AITA officials and the selectors. It is confidential and I don’t want to reveal it,” said Leander. “But I wanted them to know my professional decision. After all, I have an opinion as the captain, too,” he added.
“Now that the association has taken a decision, I will play with Mahesh. As far as the match is concerned, I will put in my best to bring home a medal regardless of whom I am paired with.”
Asked to comment on his continuous verbal battle with Mahesh for the past two days, Leander said: “Yes, of course, we talked. While a player’s experience is important, his status and injuries also have to be taken into consideration. At the end of the day, we have to put up the best team to win a medal.”
As the India captain made it clear that he was forced to swallow the decision, team sources said it took a lot of pursuasion by AITA secretary Anil Khanna to make Leander agree to play with Mahesh. Khanna has also instructed Mahesh to play the mixed doubles with Shikha Uberoi.
“It was indeed a difficult task,” said a team member. “Leander was unwilling to play with Mahesh after what happened in the team event against Chinese Taipei. But Khanna finally put his foot down and almost forced Leander to change his decision. Without him, the duo would have parted company.”
For those who were present near the No. 3 court at the Khalifa Tennis and Squash Complex in the morning, it was quite clear that the most well-known and successful doubles pair of Indian tennis has definitely fallen apart.
Even the animated conversation between the two for around 15 minutes at the centre of the court after the practice session was so evident that one hardly needed a lip reader to know what was going on. Leander, of course, did most of the talking and Mahesh was seen trying to intervene excitedly.
A large number of people gathered around the tennis court as Leander partnered with Mahesh to play two sets with Mustafa Ghouse and Rohan Bopanna with trainer Graham Greath acting as the umpire. Till then the duo had not exchanged a word. Perhaps, for the benefit of mediamen , they then shook hands and even patted each other after winning each point. Frankly, no one was convinced.
Minutes after the practice was over, Mahesh stormed out of the court with trainer Greath. As the waiting journalists tried to approach him, he turned back and angrily said: “Why don’t you ask the captain'”
Other players and Khanna stayed back at the court for half-an-hour more but did not entertain any queries from the media. The captain said he would talk only in the evening.
He did keep his word.