Indian tennis veteran Leander Paes has mentioned that his partnership with Mahesh Bhupathi proved to the nation that they could be world champions. He added that the duo's story of triumph is worthy of being told as they put India on the map of world tennis.
Leander Paes talked about his illustrious tennis career along with his superb partnership with Mahesh Bhupathi in an exclusive chat with Indranil Basu on Sportskeeda Live.
On being asked about his partnership with Mahesh Bhupathi, Leander Paes called it a fantastic union while recalling the time when they had shared a small room at Wimbledon during their junior days.
"It was fantastic. I think as two young boys when we were around 16 years old, we shared a room in Wimbledon, a little dormitory room in the summer of 1990. We only had one bed in it."
Leander Paes recollected that he was participating in the junior Wimbledon Championship at the time and that the young Mahesh Bhupathi came along to stay with him as he didn't have any other accommodation.
"I was playing the main draw of Wimbledon at the time in the juniors and Mahesh was in Wimbledon and he didn't have a place to stay in. So I offered him my room to stay, only with one criteria that he had to be back in the room by 10 PM."
The 1990 junior Wimbledon champion revealed that the only condition he had imposed on Bhupathi was that the latter had to be back in the room by 10 o'clock as the former had to go to sleep by that time.
"Because that's when the lights go off and the door was locked as I need to go to sleep because the next day I was working hard to win a title that week at Wimbledon."
Leander Paes on his relationship with Mahesh Bhupathi
Leander Paes revealed that he and Mahesh Bhupathi have a great friendship despite the differences of opinion they might have had on occasions.
"Mahesh and myself have shared an unbelievable friendship through ups and downs, through a lot of differences because we are very different as people and I am not here to tell you who is right or who is wrong but when two different people come together there are going to be differences."
Leander Paes felt proud of the fact that the Indian Express, as the duo was fondly called, had showed to the country that they could become world champions and win Grand Slams in a sport like tennis that is played all over the world.
"But what I really respect about what we shared and what we have is that we proved to India that we can be world champions. We proved to India that we can win Grand Slams and be No.1 in the world in a global sport like tennis where the competition is so fierce.
Leander Paes mentioned that the pair had mutual respect for each other while adding that the two of them have been in touch through the lockdown by engaging in some fun activities. He also said that they are working on some projects to share their great journey together with the world.
"Even today as we conduct ourselves very differently as we have different personalities, yet we have mutual respect for each other. Through the lockdown we have come out to do some fun things together, to bring the communities together or at the same time work on a few projects about telling our story."
Leander Paes opined that is was important to share their story to showcase the hardships they had to endure in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the sporting culture in India was not that professional.
"I feel it is important to tell the Lee-Hesh story because what we had to overcome through the 90s and the 2000s when the professional sport in India was not in the top 5 in the world, we didn't have Grand Slam champions back then."
Leander Paes added that it is important to come together and show the nation how they put India on the global tennis map.
"I think it is very important to tell the different stories through different view points, to show those differences and also to share in oneness that we came together and put India on the map of tennis to win Grand Slams."
The 18-time Grand Slam champion iterated that he and Mahesh Bhupathi share a unique bond, at times hitting out at each other and taking each other's side on other occasions.
"It is quite a unique friendship that Mahesh and myself share, we go through ups, we go through downs, sometimes we take shots at each other and sometimes we defend each other, it is one big melting pot of life and it is quite unique."
Leander Paes observed that their friendship has stood the test of time even though it has had its fair share of ups and downs.
"It has been sour at times, euphoric and jubilation at times but it stood the test of times. We have been through ups and downs."
Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi rose to the No. 1 ranking in the world in 1999, a year in which they reached the finals of all 4 Grand Slams while winning the French Open and Wimbledon. They also won the 2001 French Open for their third Grand Slam title as a pair.