The Indian doubles combine of Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna recently played in the men’s doubles at Rio 2016, crashing out in the first round to the Polish combine of Marcin Matkowski and Lukasz Kubot.
A very publicly played-out spat between the pair had made headlines prior to their match, with Paes not having been Bopanna’s first choice of partner at the Olympic games. It was India’s Saketh Myneni, the country’s top-ranked singles player.
Bopanna, as a result of his rankings, had both a direct entry to the Olympics and the freedom to choose his own partner. AITA, or the all-India tennis association, intervened to send Paes in his place, with the two unable to fire despite being on the back of a successful Davis Cup campaign together.
Now, Paes’ longtime Grand Slam winning former partner Mahesh Bhupathi has commented on the pair’s Olympic jaunt. Describing them as “not even underprepared, they were not even prepared,” Bhupathi said in a press conference in Mumbai that the two lacked any practice together going into the match.
Questioned about the pair’s Davis Cup win in Chandigarh, Bhupathi described India’s rivals, Korea, as “dilapidated,” saying “They didn’t play matches together. Even when Leander and I were not playing together on tour in 2004 and 2008, we always came together and played a few tournaments and that’s what Olympics demands. This year they went in cold… One match against a dilapidated Korean Davis Cup team is not the way to prepare for the Olympics.”
Defending the Indian women’s doubles combine of Sania Mirza and Prarthana Thombare, Bhupathi said the pair “put in a lot of practice time together,” and that they produced their best game together “given their relative individual rankings.”
Bhupathi also believed that the mixed doubles team of Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna were the country’s best shot at an Olympic medal, he described them as ‘unlucky’ to have missed out on medalling. The pair lost in the semi-finals to the powerful combine of Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram, and Bhupathi credited stellar tennis from Williams for the pair’s win there. saying “....one just has to credit Venus for the kind of tennis she produced from the other end.”
Together, Bhupathi and Paes were one of the most successful duos in men’s doubles tennis and the best men’s doubles players India produced, winning Grand Slams and medals at the Asian Games. They were also successful with other partners, but together had a chemistry that was lauded by players and fans.
In 1999, the two became the first ever doubles pair in the Open Era to reach the finals of all four Grand Slams, of which they won two titles. Although they split following the 2006 Asian Games, they came together one last time to represent India at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, reaching the quarter-finals before being ousted by eventual gold medal winners Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka.
Paes came together with former World No. 1 Martina Hingis last year in the mixed doubles, and with their win at the French Open in 2016, the pair won a Career Grand Slam – having taken titles at the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open in 2015.