Bhupathi
Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes

On 9th April 2017, India beat Uzbekistan 4-1 in the 2017 Group I, Asia/Oceania 2nd Round. Everyone after such a routing by the Indian Davis Cup team would have expected the Indian tennis to be celebrating and talking about the victory, but, as it turns out there was another issue within the Indian Davis Cup team which stole the limelight from the 4-1 victory.

On 5th March 2017, Mahesh Bhupathi, the 42-year old Indian tennis champion, had a WhatsApp conversation with his compatriot and then friend Indian tennis Legend Leander Paes which disclosed that the Indian Davis Cup team non-playing captain, Bhupathi, had asked Paes about his participation in the Group I, Asia/Oceania tie on 07-09 April at the KSLTA Tennis Stadium in Bangalore against Uzbekistan. Bhupathi had written that Paes’ presence would be “invaluable” and would help the team reach the World Group Play-Offs. Paes gladly accepted the request and said that Davis Cup “comes first” and not challengers.

On the eve of the tie, the Indian Davis Cup team captain claimed that Paes’ outburst and claims of personal bias and questionable criteria was unprofessional. Leander Paes also questioned the form of the selected players after the draw announcement and later did not practice with the team following the draw and left the team on Saturday in the middle of the tie. Bhupathi said that he submitted the report about Paes’ conduct to the All India Tennis Association. He also explained the reason for dropping Leander Paes from the team saying that there were 5 things in selection criteria for choosing the team and that Paes did not fulfil them also stating that he missed a fitness test before the tie.

Paes defended himself by stating that the main selection criteria was player form, which did not hold true for the final selection. He also pointed out saying that the team had been selected before he arrived in Bangalore and that he had not been categorically informed. He said that displaying personal messages was the “unbecoming” of the Davis Cup captain also saying that he could reply to Bhupathi’s long post but he would do it sometime later and said, “Talk is cheap, history books, however, don’t lie.”

This could mean that the 18-time Grand Slam doubles’ Champion may never play in the Davis Cup again. Leander Paes also has played 27 doubles ties with the non-playing Indian Davis Cup team captain Mahesh Bhupathi having a 25-2 record and spanning over 14 years. After these events it remains to be seen what action the AITA takes and what it means for Leander Paes and the Indian Davis Cup team with the World Group Play-Offs in Canada against the home side scheduled on 15-17 September, 2017.

Ameya Mahajan

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