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Paes-Bhupathi bury differences for Athens

Kunal Pradhan | June 07, 2004 13:02 IST

Point after point, there was a resonating thud as Leander Paes banged his chest against Mahesh Bhupathi's in a routine that symbolised their dominance.

The doubles pair reached the final of all four Grand Slams in 1999, but then came a bitter split.

The "Indian Express" have decided to bury their personal differences, however, and aim to cap their careers with a medal at the Athens Olympics in August.

"If anyone thinks we don't have a chance to win, they'd better wake up and smell the coffee," Bhupathi told Reuters.

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"When we play together we have a kind of aura that opponents find difficult to handle. It's to do with the things we bring to the court - the energy and the experience."

Paes and Bhupathi still play together for their country in the Davis Cup. When it comes to playing regularly on the ATP Tour, the gap between them remains too wide to bridge.

"Still, playing with Leander is always easy," Bhupathi said. "We've a lot of history together and there's no reason why we can't pick ourselves up and have good run at Athens."

Perhaps the duo, who have won three Grand Slam titles together, should not have split up in the first place.


The two realised they had an uncanny chemistry while representing India in a Davis Cup tie in 1996 - by then Paes had won an Olympic singles bronze at Atlanta.

They played together on the Challenger circuit as an experiment and decided to move on to greater things after winning half a dozen titles that year.

The Indian team took the ATP circuit by storm in 1997, winning six doubles titles, and they added another six crowns to their collection the following year.

Then came 1999 and they became the hottest property on the doubles circuit, winning the French Open and Wimbledon titles.

But even while they were making history, there was trouble brewing. Their split in early 2000 was a great shock for Indian fans.

They have never talked about the specifics of the problems, all Bhupathi would say was that the camaraderie and confidence had been destroyed by misunderstandings and ego clashes.

The pair attempted to patch things up before the Sydney Olympics and they won their third Grand Slam together at the 2001 French Open.

Paes and Bhupathi seemed to have found a balance, not sharing hotel rooms and burying their differences while on court. The arrangement worked only sometimes.


Bhupathi, 29, and Paes, 30, know time is running out and Athens may be their last chance to win an Olympic medal together.

"You wouldn't put any money on our being around for four more years. We know that this is it," Bhupathi said.

Some, including India's best-known player Ramanathan Krishnan, say they don't have a ghost of a chance at the Olympics because of their lack of practice together.

Bhupathi, however, feels there are good signs. For one, he says their relationship has thawed since Paes was admitted to hospital last year with a non-malignant brain lesion.

Bhupathi, visibly shaken, rushed to the Orlando hospital where Paes was being tested for cancer and the two have since became much more comfortable with each other.

Another improvement over 2000 is that they are in better form and likely to be seeded.

"We won't run into teams like the Woodies early on. That'll naturally give us a better shot."

Unseeded at the Sydney Olympics, their hopes were dashed when they suffered an early loss to Australia's Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, a defeat that still rankles.

Bhupathi won the Rome Masters event with Belarussian Max Mirnyi in May and Paes combined with Czech David Rikl to reach the semi-finals of the Hamburg Masters the following week.

"We're doing well right now. Playing together in Toronto and Cinicinnati will be a good build-up for the Olympics," Bhupathi said.

"By the time we reach Athens, we'll be ready for anyone."

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