When you have two top names in the sport in the scene it can either illuminate the settings or as we saw in the events surrounding the Davis Cup tie against Uzbekistan in Bangalore recently, cause a bust up that can be unbecoming but provide enough grist for the media. So much so sadly the action in the tie suddenly got partially masked so to say. Despite a bunch of untested young talent, India did well to chalk out a 4-1 winning line in the final analysis for a place in the World Group play off, but the concern or focus still was on the Mahesh Bhupathi-Leander Paes spat that took the thunder way from everything else. Once great partners, then rivals and then seeming foes in some way, none expected the kind of flare that unfolded in Bangalore. When two individuals of strong minds and character are involved such moments can never be considered unexpected.

Mahesh and Leander
India's non-playing captain for Davis Cup Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes look-on during the first singles match of the Asia Oceania Group 1 tie against Uzbekistan at KSLTA in Bengaluru / PTI photo


Years ago at the ATP event in Chennai's Nungambakkam stadium, I, as part of a reporting team, had the opportunity once to meet Mahesh, who had just arrived from abroad for this annual feast and was yet to get into his stride. As one keen like any journalist on the prowl for a good 'story' for the next day's newspaper edition the chance came in the form of the well-known young man's father C.G.K. Bhupathi, a genial person! He said, pointing towards the feet of his son, standing a little way, “look at his shoes, each is of a different pair. There is an interesting story behind this. Just talk to him. He will have something to narrate.” Buoyed by the possibility of a getting an unusual account from him, I wasted no time in approaching him. But, Mahesh seemed hardly amused. He did not laugh it off but actually drew away with an abrupt “sorry, not now. I am tired. We will talk later.” A possible story went up in thin air, alright, but the brusque manner of Mahesh amazed me. His thinking was different.

That episode came to mind when noting the happenings in Bangalore! Mahesh clearly has his way of expressing his mind. More so now as the non-playing captain, an experienced hand who has been through the rough and tough. Significantly, perhaps he believes there has to be a time for everything. If that moment in Chennai did not suit his interest at that point, then the run up to the Davis Cup tie particularly of Leander's ways did not suit his plans! As the captain he had laid down his requirements to the players and the goals to be achieved. Mahesh knew the challenges ahead and so it was for him to make the next move with his own judgement. The matter seemed as simple as that notwithstanding the various inferences in the media and the inspired writings thereof. There were no question writers went to town over this. Perhaps they had reason too, looking to the past and the way the two greats of Indian tennis despite all the rewards they had earned and made the country proud, had also gone at each other. Their break up as one of the redoubtable doubles pairs was one big shock in the tennis world let alone in India. Though there was a brief rapprochement later, the togetherness did not last long.

Indian davis cup player Ramkumar Ramnathan being congratulated by Leander Paes and Coach Jeeshan Ali after winning during the first singles match of the Asia Oceania Group 1 tie against Temur Ismailov of Uzbekistan /PTI



Still past is past. The future is there to work on. With such a wonderful bunch of young talents around, a sample of it coming in the Davis Cup tie against Uzbekistan, what Indian tennis would yearn for is another but new Hesh-Lee combination that would inspire the young men to look ahead with chins up and peg high their goals. If Leander remains a force in doubles play, then Mahesh has already put a positive foot forward as a clear thinker and leader. Then again just looking at their record in itself can be awe-inspiring. More or less of same age the two, driven by the passion for the sport and an urge to prove their worth on the international plane, Mahesh and Leander have carved a niche for themselves. If the Krishnans and Amritrajs were talked of in such esteem for their services to Indian tennis, then for the sheer level of achievements Mahesh and Leander's deeds have been no less as they have blazed a trail. Mahesh may have changed roles now but Leander, soon to be 44, continues to be a force in the doubles event and in Davis cup ties, he holds the doubles record of 42 wins along with Nicola Pietrangali.

It will be a pity indeed if this wealth in Indian tennis go unutilised, so to say, for the country's future in the sport. The positive of Mahesh and Leander's current position is that each continues to have a strong ambition to achieve success though in different ways. The wish of every tennis lover would be that the two should get together, synchronise their dreams and well.... that’s India's future in this sport. As the AITA Secretary General Hironmoy Chatterjee said, both had gone wrong in the way they conducted themselves in the context of the Davis Cup selection but bringing these two mature minds together now was the first immediate step. Nothing can be more apt.