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Lee-Hesh Olympics chances bleak: Krishnan

R Eswar | May 07, 2004 18:34 IST

The country may be banking on the 'Indian Express' -- the Leander Paes-Mahesh Bhupathi combine -- to wrest a gold medal at the forthcoming Athens Olympics, but legendary tennis player Ramanathan Krishnan has his doubts.

"I think that they may not win a medal in the Athens Games. Three years before you could have put your money on  them. They are also getting older and have not played together for some time now," Krishnan told PTI in an exclusive interview in Chennai.

"However, you cannot rule them out completely. I will put it this way: they should not have broken in the first place."

Leander Paes (left) and Mahesh Bhupathi with their 1999 Wimbledon mens' doubles titlePaes and Bhupathi have not played together on the ATP circuit since their second split in 2002 but are expected to join hands a month before the Athens Olympics, which begins on August 14.

The 67-year-old former world No. 3 was also very critical about the pair's split and said the country is suffering because of it.

"Tell me who is the loser. It is the country first. Other people are just laughing at it [split]. Paes and Bhupathi have lost a lot of opportunities. We all feel sorry for the situation. It should not have happened. I do not believe in talking on reunion.

"Why at all the union broke? Just like in any walk of life, egoism could be the only root for such a split. It is a sad and unfortunate atmosphere now."

Krishnan, who led India to many a memorable Davis Cup victories, said the recent loss to Japan was a "major fall" in the team's performance and lamented that India does not have the necessary back-up for Paes and Bhupathi.

"A tennis player of Paes or Bhupathi's calibre is not going to be born. It is a sorry state of affairs that we do not have anybody now as far as the second string of players is concerned.

"There is a big gap between Paes and Bhupathi and others. They are also ageing and have to quit sometime. They cannot go on forever. After them, there is a steep difference in standards.

"We are forced to carry on with these two as others are far behind them. I do not expect anyone amongst the seniors, who is 20-24 to play for India in Davis Cup and make it big," he added.

The legend, who reached the semifinals of the Wimbledon singles in 1960, said he cannot see any Indian player making a mark on the world stage in the near future.

"I cannot think of it now. It is not looking bright. Some of the young players -- Under-14, -16 -- might be able to make a mark on the international scene.

"I cannot say the same looking at the present performance of Indian players of 21-24 years of age. But the junior players could blossom on the same lines like what Paes did."

Insisting that more and more international exposure is the only remedy to bring back the old glory for Indian tennis in the team championship, Krishnan said it is essential to pick junior players with potential and help them financially to play in tournaments abroad and mould them for Davis Cup.

"We should analyse the talents, give them international tournament exposure. It should be a two-year plan and a continuous process.

"We should not look for results for the first two years. If we do that, from 2006, there will be players of calibre to win Davis Cup matches for India," he added.

Krishnan said at present everything depends on how Rohan Bopanna and Prakash Amritraj shape up to support Paes and Bhupathi.

"Right now, a lot depends on Bopanna and Prakash. There is a time limit and it is a question of now or never. They have to make up this year itself.

"They cannot say that I am good enough, I will make it up. Much more hard work is necessary for it.

"The duo was concentrating on competing only in Satellite, Grand Prix and Futures tournaments and if they really want to improve their game they need to play more and more higher level events abroad," Krishnan said.

Krishnan, a former India captain, who runs a tennis academy for Under-11 players in Chennai, also lauded the initiative of All India Tennis Association to have more and more ITF tournaments in the country but added that our  players failed to make optimum use of these events.

"It is a good idea in running these tournaments in India. It has helped our players to improve their ranking. The other part of it is that the overseas players have taken advantage of it. They have improved their rankings more than that of Bopanna and Prakash."

Asked whether he would like to take up the task of coaching the Indian team if appraoched by the authorities, Krishnan's answer was a firm "no".

"No. I am outdated. I belong to a different era. I do not fit in at all. About 15 years ago, I was asked but I said I am outdated."

Krishnan, who held the record for highest Davis Cup wins for India before Paes surpassed him last month, said he is very happy for the current Indian captain.

"He is such an excellent player to watch especially whenever he plays for India. I feel very happy for him... He is a good ambassador for India."

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