Paes, Bhupati in unseemly spat

The longest running soap opera in Indian sport completed another episode in Bengaluru last week. And as in the past, the latest sequence of events in the Leander Paes-Mahesh Bhupathi spat did little to enhance their reputation or elevate the level of their chosen profession. Like squabbling children, they met, they exchanged verbal volleys at each other through the media and then they parted, spreading bitterness all around. Different versions of truth emerged from the two camps and in the midst of it, India’s victory over Uzbekistan in the Asia-Oceania Davis Cup tie was pushed to the background.

Right from the day the team for the tie was announced, followers of Indian tennis knew that a flashpoint was just round the corner between Bhupathi, the non-playing captain of the squad, and Paes, his former doubles partner whose best playing days are well and truly behind him. Once the pride and joy of Indian tennis, the two had fallen out long ago, with their feuds over the years on various international stages bringing embarrassment to the country instead of the medals their talent deserved. A captain has every right to field the team he thinks would do the job in the best possible fashion but when Bhupathi picked Rohan Bopanna and Leander Paes as reserves, the latter felt a plan was being hatched to keep him out of the contest. And his worst fears came true when, on the day of the draw, Bopanna was picked over Paes in the doubles team, leading to a furious outburst from the senior-most player in the Indian ranks.

While Paes did not cover himself in glory with the way he behaved, Bhupathi didn’t do any better by releasing their private communication to the media on the final day to buttress his point that the former did not meet the selection criteria he had set. Beyond making themselves laughing stocks, the two achieved little from their warfare but by allowing things to reach such a pass, the All India Tennis Association (AITA) also shied away from their responsibility. Over the years, the AITA had allowed themselves to be swayed by the whims and fancies of the players and this time, they switched to the fire-fighting mode a bit too late in the day. As the mudslinging dies down, the wounds are all on the face of Indian tennis, struggling to gain a toehold on the global stage. The last word on this clash of egos is yet to be uttered but as the team prepares for the World Group play-off tie against Canada, it might just be the perfect time to turn the page and focus on the challenges ahead.

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