Mahesh Bhupathi condemns ex-partner Leander Paes's cavalier approach at Rio Olympics
Bhupathi also recalled how his own lack of match practice with Paes was a factor before the 2008 Olympics.
Mahesh Bhupathi had no sympathy for his ex-partner's actions. "You cannot go to the Olympic Games without preparation," the former doubles world no 1 told ETPanache in Mumbai on Monday. "I don't care who you are.I don't care how much money you are making ( Paes reached Rio late on account of a club tennis engagement i n t he US). It is inexcusable that Leander reached Thursday night, expecting a miracle on Saturday. It's unfathomable. The Olympics schedule is out two years in advance. You keep singing the song that this (the Olympics) is your thing (and then show up at the last minute)."
Mahesh Bhupati and Leander Paes during practice in New Delhi on April 9, 2008. (Image: BCCL)
Bhupathi, however, agreed with the selectors' decision of appointing Paes as Bopanna's partner. As India's highest ranked doubles player, Bopanna had named Saketh Myneni as his preferred partner in Rio. The selectors, though, felt that the Bopanna-Paes combine had the better chance of a medal.
Leander Paes blocks his face with tennis balls as he talks with his partner Rohan Bopanna during their match at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Image: AP)
But that was on paper. Realistically, Bopanna and Paes had no hope. They weren't friends. And they had played exactly one match together in 2016.
Bhupathi recalled how his own lack of match practice with Paes was a factor before the 2008 Olympics. He had then called on Anil Khanna, the All India Tennis Association (AITA) chief, to broker a commitment from Paes that the two of them will play some events together in the lead-up to the Games. "We were not gelling," Bhupathi said. "I told Anil I wasn't going to play in the Olympics without practice. Anil sat us down during the French Open in Paris and took a commitment from Leander that we'd play some events before the Olympics." This time, Bhupathi said, "No one took the bull by the horns. Each one was pursuing his own train of thought. Rohan perhaps felt the pressure of getting his ranking up so that we'd qualify for the Olympics (one player from the team had to have a ranking in the top-10 to qualify). Anil probably did not want another controversy after the London Olympics and Leander was occupied with his seventh Olympics thing."
Work on the bonding
On a positive note, Bhupathi acknowledged the performance of Sania Mirza and Bopanna in the mixed doubles. The pair reached the semifinals before losing a close match against an inspired Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram. "A few points here and there and they would have won a medal."
Williams and Ram were a last minute entry into the Games, which Bhupathi said proved that bonding wasn't always dependent on time spent together. "But .when there is underlying tension, it's important to work on the bonding," he said