BENGALURU: When Mahesh Bhupathi was announced as the new non-playing Davis Cup captain, the writing was on the wall for Leander Paes. On Thursday, Bhupathi dropped the 18-time Grand Slam winner from the team for the Uzbekistan tie. Paes, who joined the team on Wednesday after a long flight from Mexico (he won the Leon Challenger on Sunday), criticised Bhupathi for not informing him beforehand.
But after India won the tie 4-1 on Sunday, Bhupathi responded by saying he had conveyed the message to Paes before the team was announced. “I met Leander at the Dubai Championships and reached out, being the captain, to see what his stance was about playing Davis Cup,” Bhupathi said. “Before the selection, I sent him a message telling him candidly that I’m going to ask for six in the team. And that I would respect his decision if he decided not to come and if he wanted to wait till he was guaranteed a spot in the four.”
“He said that if he was in the six, he would be happy to come and that playing Davis Cup is his priority. It was pretty unfortunate what happened on Thursday. It was very unprofessional for him to go public with that,” Bhupathi added.
Following a media embargo before the draw ceremony, Bhupathi also banned players from reading anything to keep the players focused. “I know it’s difficult with all the social media and every platform carrying these articles. But they kept their head down and kept focus. I am proud of them for that,” he said.
Before the saga unfolded, Bhupathi said he would always welcome Paes. But on Sunday, he wrote off his once doubles partner. “Now Rohan (Bopanna) is the No 1 doubles player in the country by far. Unless something untoward happens from now till September the team is going to remain like this. We set five criteria and he (Paes) did not meet any of them,” Bhupathi said commenting on Paes’ future.
However, Paes’ future in the team has been debated for a long time. At the 2012 London Olympics, Bhupathi refused to partner a higher-ranked Paes in men’s doubles, picking Bopanna instead. Sania Mirza, meanwhile, was urged to play mixed doubles with him. At the Rio Olympics, Bopanna initially asked for Saketh Myneni but was forced to play with Paes, who joined the team a day before the first round match. They lost. Bhupathi said he wanted to put the episode behind him and would report to AITA on all that took place here. “I don’t know if it’s my job to discipline anyone. I will put what happened in my captain’s report to AITA. We are all being disciplined and working as hard as possible to put our best foot forward. Hopefully, this episode will never happen again as long as I’m the captain and hopefully a lot of us will learn from what happened,” he signed off.