x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Indian tennis soap opera is no smash

Leander Paes is the highest-ranked doubles player in India, but neither Mahesh Bhupathi nor Rohan Bopanna wanted to partner him.

Mahesh Bhupath, left, playing with Leander Paes.
Mahesh Bhupath, left, playing with Leander Paes.

As Manchester United teammates, Andrew Cole and Teddy Sheringham spent 4,581 minutes on the pitch together without exchanging a word. In cricket, Imran Khan and Javed Miandad combined to win a World Cup for Pakistan without being fond of each other.

In such team sports, though, there are others to act as buffers and to keep the fragile peace. There's no such option in tennis, as the Indian federation found out naming a team for the London Olympics.

Leander Paes is the highest-ranked doubles player, but neither Mahesh Bhupathi nor Rohan Bopanna - who will now team up in London - wanted to partner him. Paes, who insisted that he should be able to choose his partner, isn't thrilled with the idea of playing with the little-known Vishnu Vardhan.

In 1999, he and Bhupathi became the first pair in Open era to reach all four major finals. Since then, their love-hate relationship has become Indian sport's most tawdry soap opera. Bhupathi recently called Paes a "back-stabber", a compliment that was returned by Paes' father.

After two decades of Davis Cup heroics, Paes is the federation's golden boy, a status reinforced when it was decided to send two teams to London. "Impossible to think of the Olympics without Leander," said Anil Khanna, the federation president.

Bhupathi has won 12 major titles to Paes' 13. Paes and his backers have played the patriot card to the hilt, but all it has done, in Bhupathi's words, is to make Indian tennis's most cherished doubles act "a laughing stock".

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