Paes and Bhupathi are back together and eyeing the only slam to elude them. Paul Oberjuerge reports
Even at grand slams, doubles tennis is enthusiastically ignored. For any doubles team to appear on the international radar requires special circumstances.
Leander Paes and his partner Mahesh Bhupathi have produced those circumstances by ticking three "novelty" boxes at the Australian Open. They are back together as a team after almost a decade of estrangement; they represent a real chance for India to produce a grand slam winner; and Paes was accused of trash-talking during a second-round match in Melbourne.
Paes and Bhupathi were a nearly unstoppable pairing in 1999. They won the doubles titles at the French Open and Wimbledon that year, and added another French doubles title in 2001 before they went their separate ways.
What happened to break them up is still a topic of speculation. Whatever it was, they rarely played on the same side of the net from 2001 until late last year.
Neither man is ready to explain what broke them up. "Time is the best healer," Paes told The Wall Street Journal. "We both take responsibility for whatever happened in the past, and now we're a lot more mature about it."
Bhupathi said: "There is no doubt that we play the best we can with each other."
Neither player has done much in singles and, at ages 37 (Paes) and 36 (Bhupathi) they are not likely to. But together, they remain formidable. They won the doubles title at Chennai earlier this month, are seeded No 3 in Melbourne and seem ready to add to the 22 doubles titles they have won together.
To cap the sudden interest in the pair, their second-round opponents on Saturday, Feliciano Lopez of Spain and Juan Monaco of Argentina, accused Paes of "trying to provoke" them with tart remarks during rallies. The four players engaged in a heated discussion at the net before officials stepped in to break it up.
Paes, some say, is known for verbal gamesmanship, which clearly rankled Lopez and Monaco, who lost in straight sets.
Yesterday, Paes and Bhupathi took another step toward the only doubles title neither has won by defeating Marcel Granollers and Tommy Rebredo of Spain 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. That puts them in the quarter-finals. Three more victories would give each of them a "grand slam" of doubles tennis titles, albeit over a 13-season span.