Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi may reunite for Rio Olympics

first_imgOne of the longest running soap operas in Indian sports could have a new chapter come August. It should not be a surprise if tennis aces Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi sing the national anthem together and compete in the men’s doubles event at the Rio Olympics as the friends-turned-foes have patched up.Sample this: Leander turns 43 in June and Mahesh 42. At a combined age of 85, if they step on the hard courts at Rio, they will be carrying the expectations of a billion people.There will be hope and hype, once again. Just that, for the two men who have slowed down over the years, they will try to resuscitate their chemistry after four previous attempts from 1996 to 2008 in the Olympics did not bear fruit.Having won a bronze medal in singles at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Leander slowly switched to doubles. He has craved another medal, through doubles. But bickering, mistrust and lack of cohesive practice with partner Mahesh dashed his chances.In 2012, the previous edition, Leander did not want to play with Mahesh and the feeling was mutual. The result was the two had different partners and flopped miserably.In sport as in life, four years is a long time. Leander has slipped down the ranking charts and is now at 59. This position will not guarantee him a doubles entry, so the All India Tennis Association (AITA), the parent body which controls tennis in the country, will apply for a wild card for him.Why Leander wants to pick Mahesh is no mystery. The two started talking, and the ball was set rolling last winter when Leander competed in the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL), Mahesh’s brainchild.advertisementMahesh needed Leander, given his immense popularity, and Leander needed the money that comes in handy for paying the bills.Then again, in recent times, the two have been seen together in Mumbai. They are currently playing in Challenger tennis events in China with different partners. When Mail Today contacted Mahesh, he did not want to react.”I am in China and getting ready for a practice session with Saketh Myneni,” he said.According to reports, Leander and Mahesh wanted to bury the hatchet for a last shot at Olympic glory. They did not know how to go about getting an entry into the draw. It is next to impossible because of their low rankings.But given Leander’s charismatic stature, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) would possibly want to give him a wild card to recognise his long career spanning close to three decades.In the past, the duo won the men’s doubles titles at the French Open and Wimbledon in 1999, a year when they also made it to the finals of the Australian Open and the US Open. They won another crown at Roland Garros in 2001. There is nostalgia in the air and hope in the hearts of India’s biggest tennis heroes who have been part of Olympic and Asian Games campaigns and also the Davis Cup.For those who may wonder if these two can string together a few match wins in Rio, there is no certainty. Even in the worst of times, they pulled off wins despite not having played together.Today, they know, as brand ambassadors of Indian sport, they cannot fight in public and would want to be seen as seasoned pros willing to play for Olympic glory one last time.This will be his seventh straight Olympics for Leander and the sixth consecutive one for Mahesh if they get a wild card entry. The wait for Lee-Hesh, as the duo is known, will last till June. The cut-offs for players and nations will be decided after the French Open that month.The AITA was not willing to comment on the wild card application but Mail Today has learnt that the matter is being pursued at the “highest level.”The ITF website for the Rio Olympics says there are 24 direct pairs, which will get entry in men’s doubles and eight qualification places (wild cards) are also at stake. And in this ambit, there is a lot of scope for Leander to get a doubles wild card.Just to jog the readers’ memory, at the 2012 London Olympics, Leander wanted to play with Rohan Bopanna, but the latter chose Mahesh. Eventually, Leander played with Vishnu Vardhan.last_img read more