Mahesh Bhupathi needs no introduction. He is one of the pioneers of Indian tennis and is one of the best doubles player in the world, with 12 Grand Slams to boast of. After being recently been banned by the AITA from representing India for the next two year, he has decided to protest the decision. In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda correspondent Taruka Srivastav, Bhupathi spoke about his reaction to the ban.
Are you planning to take any action against the AITA? If yes, what would that action constitute?
Bhupathi: Yes, it’s high time; someone has to stand up if we have to save the future of Indian tennis. My lawyers are working on it and we will let you know soon. A ban is the saturation point and I couldn’t take it anymore.
Did AITA sent you any letter regarding the ban?
Bhupathi: No. A reporter told me about it and showed me a press release by the AITA. I have done so much for the country and Indian tennis, therefore I deserve some respect and explanations.
You have claimed that the AITA’s decision is based on personal vendetta. Can you please tell us what has led the AITA to have a personal vendetta against you?
Bhupathi: Unfortunately, even I haven’t been able to figure out what problem they have against me. It’s just that I am doing what the federation should be doing in order to promote tennis and I guess that is bothering them a lot.
After all that has transpired between you and the tennis officials in India, do you still have the desire to represent the country in international team competitions?
Bhupathi: I play tennis because I love the game and have given it my whole life. Some oldies heading the association can’t take away my love for my game and my country. That’s what you see. They can stop me playing but they can’t stop my desire of playing and representing my country.
You used to regularly team up with Sania Mirza before the AITA intervened and instructed Sania to partner Leander Paes at the Olympics. After that, Sania was seen paying with British player Colin Fleming at the US Open. Does this mean the end of the Bhupathi-Sania mixed doubles partnership?
Bhupathi: I won’t like to comment about that right now.
Do you think Leander Paes had anything to do with the AITA’s decision to ban you and Rohan Bopanna?
Bhupathi: Of course not. Paes is a great player and whatever he does is always in the best interest of the game. We have been playing together since many years and have immense respect for each other. It’s just that some people seem to be following the divide and rule policy.
Do you think tennis has become a little too politicised in India?
Bhupathi: A little politicised? I would say it’s become a tyrannical rule of one man – Anil Khanna.
Will you still continue to partner Rohan Bopanna?
Bhupathi: See, in all probability, I might quit the circuit next year. Rohan is a young player who still has 8-10 years of tennis left in him. So it’s better to let him play with young partners like Aisam Qureshi or whoever else he chooses.
Why do you say you will quit playing next year?
Bhupathi: Because I am getting old. *laughs*
Is AITA the reason why your Apollo project never took off?
Bhupathi: Apparently, yes. I recieved calls from people saying that AITA approached the company saying that since it heads Indian tennis, the project should be undertaken by them.
Now that you are protesting in the open, how have the reactions of all tennis players and other people from the sports fraternity in India been?
Bhupathi: To be honest, you won’t believe it, but everyone is sympathising and is supporting me. I have received more good luck messages than I have received before playing any Grand Slam. I think every tennis player in India has suffered a lot and it’s just that they don’t have a platform like I do to speak out.
Do you think players should head the associations?
Bhuipathi: Well, I wouldn’t exactly say so. But yes, there should be a combination of administrators and players, as a player would know the kind of difficulties faced by his peers better.