Friends turned foes: Gloves off in Paes-Bhupathi battle

Leander PaesBangalore: Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi are undoubtedly two of the best doubles players on the planet but unfortunately not the best of partners any more to an extent that the latter is prepared to go the distance to get Rohan Bopanna as his mate at the London Olympics tennis competition.

With the summer Games just around the corner, the gloves are off and the seemingly irreconcilable differences between Paes and Bhupathi have triggered a war of words between the two camps.

The fathers of the two players, Vece Paes and Krishna Bhupathi, have freely aired their views each blaming the other for the sorry state of affairs.

Krishna Bhupathi alleged that Leander "dumped" his son for a foreign partner after having come together last year ostensibly to prepare for the Olympics. Vece Paes charged Mahesh with "back stabbing" by preferring to partner Rohan Bopanna.

The All India Tennis Association's selection committee "unanimously" decided here Friday to pair Paes and Bhupathi for their fifth Olympics together, but that has only stirred a hornet's nest.

Soon after the selection was announced, Bhupathi and Bopanna put out a joint statement expressing their disappointment while questioning the decision that they termed "unjustified compromise".

Mahesh BhupathiThe players' statement also indicates that the last word on this contentious issue has not been said or written since they plan to "continue to make our case to all concerned over the next few days" keeping in mind the deadline for nomination being June 21.

AITA president Anil Khanna hinted at "disciplinary action" should any of the players refuse to play and pointed out that the Indian stars were receiving $6,000 a month from the government to prepare for the Olympics and as such are obliged to agree with the decision.

The air is thick with intrigue and politics while tennis is relegated to the background if one were to go by the joint statement that said: "We are sure that there have been multiple considerations leading to this decision, but are hopeful that better sense will prevail before the ITF's team nomination deadline of June 21, 2012."

Paes and Bhupathi, once the poster boys of Indian tennis, have turned from close friends to foes, and have remained so despite best efforts from their well-wishers after they split as a doubles combination in 2002.

However, the two intermittently came together for Davis Cup ties or like last year when purely personal goals of completing a career Slam saw them pair up at the Australian Open.

And now, with the two fathers jumping into the already troubled waters, more dirty linen is likely to be washed in public while the image of Indian tennis takes another beating.

Should AITA stick to its decision on Paes and Bhupathi combination, it is unlikely that the two will be able to conjure up the magic that had once made them the top pair in the World. The matter has reached a point of no return unless both camps climb down to shake hands in true tradition of tennis. (IANS)