After 27 years, Paes gets the axe

After 27 years, Paes gets the axe

One phone call from the captain would have been enough, says humiliated veteran

After 27 years, Paes gets the axe

Dropped from the Davis Cup team for the first time in a 27-year-long career laden with several breath-taking victories, a hurt Leander Paes slammed new captain Mahesh Bhupathi with whom he shares a very frosty relationship.

Bhupathi on Thursday decided to drop his former playing partner Paes and paired Rohan Bopanna with debutant N Sriram Balaji, ending all speculations that had marked the build-up to the Asia Oceania Group I round tie against Uzbekistan starting Friday at the KSLTA.

“The sport is bigger than I am. The country is much bigger than I am. I’m here to support the country and the Davis Cup team. But, I firmly believe one simple phone call — whether you are needed or you are not needed — (should have been made). As simple as that,” the 43-year-old told reporters court side on Thursday afternoon, hurt at the way he was treated.

“It’s very hard to take it. It is about playing for the country. It is what I was born for, what I live for, what my parents played for. Sometimes you have to take it on the chin, throw your shoulders back and keep working hard. To play in Mexico, whether I get the call or not, and to play Challengers and tournaments which are small compared to my career, and work my way back again, and win like I did last year. I can guarantee that my passion for the sport and passion to play for India is still within me. It does not get deterred by individuals.”

Paes, who chose to make the long flight all the way from Mexico despite knowing that Bhupathi was going to pick only one specialist doubles player, criticised the inconsistent selection policy.

“The criterion I was told is form. That being said, the team was chosen two weeks ago based on ITF form in Futures. Whereas I just won an ATP Challenger (in Mexico).  Bangalore’s altitude is 920 metres while Mexico (meant Leon’s) altitude is above 1800M. 

“When I got here yesterday morning for practice, I was feeling the ball very well, as you guys saw. That being said, the criterion is form, which obviously doesn’t seem to be the case. It seems to fluctuate a lot. I think whatever the criterion is, it should be stuck by. At one time, it is based on rankings, the other time it is not based on ranking but based on likes and personal preferences.

“When it is not personal preferences, it is based on who plays deuce court and ad court. Now it is based on form. On form, you guys know better who has played better,” added Paes, taking a dig Rohan Bopanna — the specialist doubles player chosen. While Bopanna last won in Chennai Open in January, Paes is fresh from winning an ATP Challenger title in Leon, Mexico.

Paes, for whom the door appears all but shut, said his main goal is to win 20 Grand Slams (in doubles). “Last night I was thinking about that. For me, my benchmark in tennis is to win 20 Grand Slams, why I don't know. I’ve won 18 and been in 36 finals approximately. I don’t have anything to prove to anybody. If I don’t play another professional match in my life, if I don’t win another tournament in my life, if I don’t play another Davis Cup match in my life, I've had a fabulous career, a very blessed career. The respect I get from all of you, the look I get in the eyes, the reverence I worked so hard to play for the flag and country. I’ve had a very blessed career. As long as I do it, I'm going be the best I can.”

Dejected Paes won’t be staying back for the weekend action but said he’ll be rooting for the country from afar.