regular-article-logo Tuesday, 03 October 2023

Paes-Bhupathi story, warts & all

Show to chronicle tennis duo’s roller-coaster ride, ‘honest and raw’

Elora Sen Calcutta Published 25.09.21, 01:20 AM
Leander Paes and (right) Mahesh Bhupathi with their Wimbledon 1999 men’s doubles trophies.

Leander Paes and (right) Mahesh Bhupathi with their Wimbledon 1999 men’s doubles trophies. Getty Images

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi — an enigmatic duo who have given Indian tennis fans joyful highs and rather difficult lows, a pair who ruled as world No.1, and then stopped playing together with hardly any explanation given.

After winning three grand slam titles together and holding the Davis Cup record for most number of consecutive doubles wins, the “Indian Express” had derailed themselves.


And after decades of silence, they have now come together to tell their story, which, as Paes puts it, is “honest and raw”.

Paes and Bhupathi, during virtual interactions, said that in the docu-series Break Point they have been brutally honest about their partnership and the highs and lows of their relationship.

The web series, a ZEE5 original directed by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari and Nitesh Tiwari, will premiere on October 1.

“It is not just about us winning grand slams or becoming World No.1. It is not just about losing an Olympics medal (having come agonisingly close at the 2004 Athens Olympics). It is a human story. It is about two teenagers who had a dream of winning Wimbledon and be the best in the world,” Paes, 48, told The Telegraph.

“It is about how we came out of the Indian sports ecosystem, when proper infrastructure was almost non-existent, and yet we reached our goals. It is a story of two young kids who only had each other to lean on.”

Paes added: “As you go through the episodes, you will not only see how a champion is built but also the fact that champions are vulnerable. The Leander-Mahesh story shows that a champion need not be perfect. You make mistakes, but you have to be humble enough to learn from life.”

Bhupathi, 47, had similar views. “This series will help people understand what we went through. Yes, we were on a high as the No.1 doubles team in the world, but it was not easy. And we had our reasons for going our separate ways. Years later I feel we are mature enough to share our story,” Bhupathi told The Telegraph.

“We have tremendous memories. Our on-court chemistry and friendship had been obvious. Our first title together was in 1997, when we won the Chennai Open and since then it had been an unforgettable ride.

“We had kept silent about the differences that pushed us away, but this series has it all.”

Leander remembers his first conversation with Bhupathi. “It was 1990. I had just played the junior Australian Open and played my first Davis Cup (against Japan in Chandigarh) and had gone to Colombo for a tournament.

“There I saw this chubby Indian kid practising backhand after backhand. And my intuition told me we could win Wimbledon together. When I walked up to him and said,

‘Do you want to win Wimbledon with me?’, Mahesh burst out laughing and said I was crazy. But my intuition proved right. Nine years later, we were Wimbledon champions.”

For Bhupathi, one of the most painful moments for the pair had been the 2004 Athens Olympics. “By then we had gone through some rough times but we came together for the Olympics, for the third time. We lost an epic bronze medal match to the Croatian pair of Ivan Ljubicic and Mario Ancic 6-7 (5-7), 6-4, 14-16. The match lasted nearly four hours. You can say it was one of the biggest disappointments that we had. We never came that close to winning an Olympic medal. We do have two Asian Games gold medals, but having been the No.1 team in the world, we were almost expected to win and we never really got much appreciation for winning in Asia,” he said.

Paes thanked the directors and the team of Earthsky Pictures for “giving us the opportunity to be completely honest”.

“They didn’t want only the sugar-coated candy floss stuff. They wanted the hard stories where we could reflect upon ourselves. We could be open about our feelings. Our parents, coaches, friends, opponents — all have given their views. This is not about who was right or wrong, it is about the truth.

“During the shooting of the web series in the past 18 months, facing a pandemic and lockdowns, we were able to bring up conversations that had remained unsaid, issues that needed addressing. We were also able to laugh together again just as we did as teenagers,” Paes added.

So is the friendship back to where it was in the 1990s? “We never stopped being friends. It is true we didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things. But we always had a bond,” Paes said.

Life has come full circle for the duo. “It was very emotional for me, reliving all those moments. Reliving two decades of our brotherhood, 20 years of hard work. Of learning our craft, of travelling the world and almost growing up together,” Paes said.

“When it comes to Leander and I, there has been a perennial question why and what if, and nobody could have articulated it better than ourselves,” Bhupathi stressed.

Is there any possibility of them again playing together? The ever optimistic Paes never says no. “You do have the Legends competition at Wimbledon. Who knows we may still win a few more trophies,” he said.

Follow us on: