MUMBAI: Even near-retirement, and more than 20 years since they won their first Grand Slam title together, Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes can't really disengage from each other. Having reached No 1 in the world in 1999, the duo has given Indian tennis some of its brightest moments and plunged it into controversy just as often.
With the sporting world in lockdown due to coronavirus, Paes and Bhupathi revived some memories last month, of why exactly they conquered the doubles game, during the 'frying pan' challenge on twitter.
On Sunday, the 45-year-old Bhupathi was seen on another social media platform, Instagram Live, talking to current doubles player Purav Raja, and like always his relationship with Paes came up.
"Every time we do something together people enjoy it," said Bhupathi, who won three of his four doubles Grand Slam titles with Paes. "A few people abuse us for not playing more Grand Slams together."
"At the end of the day, for us, winning three Slams, getting to No 1 in the world, having the record of most successful Davis Cup team, there were a lot of proud achievements that we were able to do together," he noted. "That was a high in Indian tennis, and maybe a high in Indian sport as well."
Now based in Mumbai, Bhupathi is the first Indian player ever to win a major. He had broken new ground when he won the French Open mixed doubles title with Japan's Rika Hiraki in 1997.
Two years later, Bhupathi-Paes, known as the 'Indian Express' took the tennis world by storm by making it to the finals of all the four Grand Slams, and winning the French Open and Wimbledon.
"1999 was the peak. We were the Titans of the doubles world, it was a lot of fun. We continued playing together, on and off, for about 15-16 years," he said, underplaying the number of disputes that cropped up during that time, or even later when Bhupathi took over as India's non-playing Davis Cup captain.
"We kind of conquered a white man's game, which was never done before. It led to a lot of success. Sania (Mirza), Rohan (Bopanna), all you guys now, we go in there believing that you can win. I think we were instrumental in putting the flag down for Indian tennis."
Bhupathi finished with a total of 12 Grand Slam titles.
He also holds the record with Paes for the longest winning streak in Davis Cup - 24 and unbeaten - from 1997 to 2010.