Former doubles ace Mahesh Bhupathi has said the fact that Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna had ‘no preparation’ together for the Rio Olympics was the key reason they weren’t even in contention for a medal, let alone fight for it.
Paes and Bopanna exited in the first round of the men’s doubles at the Rio Games following a feisty build up. Both players chose not to pair together in the build up to the Olympics, playing just once during the Davis Cup tie against South Korea in Chandigarh 20 days before the Games. “Under prepared is out of the question. ‘No preparation’ are the right words. They didn’t practice together, or play any matches together,” Bhupathi said.
Bhupathi said even after he and Paes stopped playing together on the ATP Tour, they used to get together before the Olympics to prepare for the event. But the equation between Paes and Bopanna has deteriorated in the last four years. Things seemed to get out of control once again when Bopanna, who had the right to name a partner of his choice by the virtue of being in top-10 of the world, picked Saketh Myneni ahead of Paes.
Paes, on the other hand, was keen to share the court with Bopanna to compete in his seventh Olympics. Eventually, Bopanna reluctantly accepted the decision made by All India Tennis Association to pair him with 42-year-old Paes.
“Everybody expected a controversy, but everybody was quiet till it actually surfaced. I’m just happy it didn’t get out of hand,” the four-time men’s doubles Grand Slam winner said on the sidelines of an inter-school table tennis tournament.
Nonetheless, once the team was finalised and announced, the extensive preparation expected ahead of the quadrennial event did not happen. “Leander and I were not playing together on tour. But in 2008, we came together and played a couple of tournaments, and that’s what the Olympics demand. We got about 300 odd matches on tour and we made an effort to do it,” recalled Bhupathi, who won three of his four men’s doubles titles partnering Paes. “Playing just one match against a dilapidated Korean Davis Cup team is not the way to prepare for the Olympics.”
For Bhupathi though, the mixed doubles event was the one that carried a serious medal chance. However, the Mirza-Bopanna partnership fell to Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram from the United States in the semi-finals, and then to the Czech Republic in the bronze medal playoff. “Very unlucky, because they were so close (in the semi-final). Going 3-1 up in the super tie-breaker, winning 6-2 in the first set. You have to give credit though, Venus Williams just stepped it up and played some amazing tennis in the tiebreaker,” he concluded.