For nearly two decades, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi have been the dominant force in Indian tennis. For nearly the whole time, the question doing the rounds has been, ‘Who after Paes and Bhupathi?'
It is a tragedy today, that on the pretext of bonding the two multiple Grand Slam champions for another tilt at an Olympic medal, an attempt is being made to drive home the last nail on the coffin of Indian tennis.
It does not require a genius to see that the two are brilliant individuals but have ‘zero chemistry', meaning ‘zero trust' between them.
Rather than sorting out the matter months in advance and accepting the reality, the All India Tennis Association (AITA) has carefully painted both Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna as villains, by tactfully leaking confidential communication in public.
Both players have courageously restrained themselves from narrating all that transpired between them and Paes when the Olympic preparation was planned by the end of last season.
There is no doubt that the AITA wanted to precipitate matters and drove Bhupathi and Bopanna to a point of no return, even as it forced the whole world to note their ‘refusal' to play with Paes.
The players should be well aware that the likes of Monica Seles, Gabriela Sabatini and Martina Navratilova, three of the four top players then in 1992, were declared ineligible by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) to compete in the Barcelona Olympics for having refused to represent their countries in the Federation Cup.
An attempt to take the Government on its side has been evident, in the manner in which the AITA has said that the players cannot refuse to play after having taken $6000 per month towards training expenses for Olympics preparation.
In fact, Bopanna broke away from a highly successful partnership with Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi of Pakistan to play with Bhupathi to prepare in earnest for the Games. Equally, one of the all-time great doubles players, who won the first Grand Slam for India by capturing the French Open mixed doubles in 1997, Bhupathi took a huge pay cut in his attempt to gel with Bopanna.
Having failed to break the misery of not gaining the elusive Olympic medal, in four successive Games with Paes, Bhupathi was just being practical in working out a new formula, and had sorted out all the niggling technical problems on court between him and Bopanna to build the pair as one of the three best national combinations in the world.
With due respect to Paes, who broke the Olympic barrier by winning the singles bronze medal in 1996 in Atlanta, it has to be observed that he took the relatively easy path by partnering with a high quality player, Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic. The target was to ensure his participation in the sixth successive Olympics with a top-10 world rank.
To his credit, Paes declared that he was ready to play with anyone, as the rules let him play with anyone with an international rank, in the light of Bhupathi and Bopanna, not budging to be broken up.
To cut things short, Paes and Bhupathi playing the Olympics, the ultimate stage in sports, with different partners would signal a new dawn for Indian tennis if that happens eventually notwithstanding the stubborn stand adopted by the AITA.
It is sad that people chose to turn a blind eye when a solution emerged. It was stupid to be adamant about uniting two players who were at each other's throat, and breaking the two who stood united.
The current situation is many fold bitter than what it was in 2006 when Paes and Bhupathi were forced to play together and won the Asian Games doubles gold in Doha. There is no doubt that they are the best, but what is the point in being the best when there is no mutual trust. You can only win Olympic medals in a dream then.