Paes doubles efforts as team selection looms

Bhupathi silent on doubles combo

Paes doubles efforts as team selection looms

It’s not very often one finds an accomplished performer going the extra mile to gain a place in a team lacking in experience. But that’s what unfolded on a sweltering Wednesday afternoon at the KSLTA courts.

Leander Paes, the 43-year-old 18-time doubles Grand Slam champion who has been pushing his body beyond limits just to stay afloat in this extremely competitive world of modern tennis, did what an aspiring junior player would do, under captain Mahesh Bhupathi’s nose ahead of India’s Davis Cup Asia Oceania Group I round two tie against Uzbekistan.

After landing in Bengaluru on Tuesday night following a strenuous flight from Mexico, Paes, a reserve player in an injury-hit home team where two players will be making their Davis Cup debuts, hit the court hard at 10:30 am in the company of coach Zeeshan Ali.

With no sparring partners available, he hit balls for close to an hour with two junior players. He served, hit from the baseline and fine-tuned his volleying skills around the net, hardly showing any signs of jetlag or tiredness. Ali, who partnered Paes in his very first Davis Cup match way back in 1990, then replaced the two kids for a small game.

One win short of surpassing Nicola Pietrangeli’s record -- 42 -- for most wins in Davis Cup doubles, Paes then returned in the evening for a full session with the Indian team. Watched keenly by Bhupathi, with whom he shares a fractious relationship, Paes sweated it out, hoping to gain berth into the playing four.

Both Bhupathi and Paes hardly spoke to each other in the two-hour long session but the latter seemed hardly worried. Showing the spunk and verve of an aspiring junior player, Paes, gagged like the rest of the team from talking to the media, teamed up with all the players as Bhupathi tried all combinations.

Bhupathi, refusing to divulge the team and the combination, kept the door open for Paes though despite the veteran slipping to 53 in doubles ranking. “Seeing Leander for the first time today. So let’s see how it goes. He looks fresh, good. So let’s see after he plays some sets.”

Bhupathi has clearly stated that there’s place in the team for only one specialist doubles player and as such Paes will learn of his future on Thursday morning when the draw is made.

With Denis Istomin ruled out for Uzbekistan, there’s a possibility that Bhupathi may rethink his plans and field both Bopanna and Paes along with two singles players. That could probably be the parting gift for Paes as Bhupathi seeks to rebuild the team for the future.

Uzbekistan’s seasoned campaigner Farrukh Dustov was confident that Paes would make the cut. “He’s a legend of Indian tennis. I don’t think he would fly down all the way here if he wasn’t going to be playing. It would be great to play him.”

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