Knowing the duo’s frosty relationship, this outcome was, in hindsight, inevitable. The moment Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi were included in the India Davis Cup squad — one as player and the other as coach — some kind of tussle was expected. How it would play out, however, remained a mystery.
On Thursday, Paes was dropped from the team. Bhupathi defended his decision by partly citing Paes’ delayed arrival (early on Wednesday). Paes defended himself by saying he flew in from Mexico (10h 30m behind) after winning the Leon Challenger.
There is, however, a sense of deja vu. Something similar had happened last summer, during the Rio Olympics, when Paes’ late arrival turned into a national issue.
Bhupathi might be justified in dropping Paes, saying time was not adequate to assess his form. But Paes’ argument also holds water. Talking about form, he won an ATP Challenger, whereas others have not won much. Bhupathi has maintained that form is a criterion. Also, Paes chose a destination which is 1800m above sea level, almost twice the altitude of Bengaluru. He specifically opted for a higher altitude to be ready for Davis Cup.
“Based on the criteria of form, which the team management laid down, I qualify. I just won a title. I went to a location with higher altitude so that I get used to the conditions. I gave up my ATP commitments for the country,” Paes said. “If you see, I have won an ATP Challenger tournament, not Futures. A phone call would have been enough.”
The whole drama could have been avoided had the two — Paes and Bhupathi — huddled together for a solution. After all they are the senior-most in the team. What will the youngsters learn? When the All India Tennis Association (AITA) announced the squad last month, Rohan Bopanna and Paes were in reserves.
However, Bopanna joined the camp on Sunday ahead of Paes, who had a final to play on Sunday in Leon.
Whether or not Paes should be in the team is debatable. In Pune, when he played the doubles with Vishnu Vardhan against New Zealand, they lost. Whatever be the overarching issue, reaching an amicable decision through dialogue was possible. That is beyond doubt. It could have been handled better. But expecting two stars to put aside their egos is perhaps too much to ask.