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EXCLUSIVE: Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupati Could Pair up Again for Wimbledon Legends – News18

Arguably India’s best doubles pairing, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi had forged an incredibly successful partnership in the years they played together. Together, they picked up three Grand Slam men’s doubles titles, and 25 ATP Tour titles, rose to world No 1, and also hold the record for the longest streak of doubles victories at the Davis Cup (24 wins between 1997 to 2010).

The duo recently came together again off the field, as they collaborated as brand ambassadors for an apparel brand. Popularly known as the Indian Express, Paes and Bhupati in an exclusive conversation with News18 spoke about pairing up again for tennis, the current state of the sport, and also explained why it will take a decade for India to win a Grand Slam.

A few months back, Rohan Bopanna hinted that he may not even get the chance to feature in the Paris Olympics because of a lack of options as his partner.

Q) Where do you feel Indian tennis is lacking?

Mahesh: Any sport can be developed but you need to have a system and backing behind it. The depth of the Indian cricket team is five teams greater than any cricket team in the world because it is systematically funded from the top to the grassroots level by the BCCI (The Board of Control for Cricket in India). If federations take that onus upon them, we have enough talent across sports in our country to bring out world leaders. But till someone does that, these questions will keep coming in and we will be giving the same answer.

Leander: I agree with Mahesh. Cricket has a phenomenal way of getting its past, current, and future champions all intermingled in the different leagues that we have If you look at BCCI, the amount of funds that it offers at club levels is phenomenal. In Colaba (south Mumbai) we may have around 2,000 clubs and in Maharashtra there would be around 2 lakh clubs. So I have always looked to learn from other sports, and as much as other athletes might complain that cricket takes all the limelight, time, and sponsors, I think it is a great time to learn from them. If associations of other sports can support their athletes, I think that is how champions are made. I believe 90 per cent of the talent in India is still untapped because they are all in rural areas. These kids are hungrier but they don’t have the resources to come to the metro cities where most of the training centers are.

Q) But don’t you think we are in a sad state when it comes to Indian tennis? Sania Mirza, who retired earlier this year mentioned that it will take at least 6 to 8 years to have another champion in Tennis from India at the international arena.

Leander: Sania is correct and she was humble when she said it would take six years. I feel it will take a little more than 10 years for a youngster from India to come out and win a grand slam. Mahesh and I had discussed this earlier and the Number 1 14-year-old in the world is Samir Banerjee who is an Indian and also won the 2021 Under 14 Wimbledon. So if you look at another four years of juniors and another four years of seniors, you are looking at a time frame of eight to ten years if that kid stays hungry, happy, and injury-free, we could have a world champion in him.

Mahesh: We are cut from the same cloth, so I agree with Leander (Smiles). Although there has been a slight lull, there are now many more children practising tennis. A Tennis Premier League, in my opinion, is the best way to promote that. To build champions again at the Grand Slam level, though, will take a good seven to eight years. I’ve noticed a slight decrease trend over the past five years, but now I’m seeing a [growing] number of kids playing tennis, which is extremely encouraging.

Q) Can we see both of you pairing up together, maybe for the Legends Doubles at the Wimbledon?

Leander: We both stay fit, and you might see us at the Wimbledon next year. I have played in a few months so my volleys have become a bit rusty (laughs) but a little practice and it will be all fine. It will be fun to get on the court again with Mahesh.

Mahesh: If a realistic opportunity, presents itself then why not? But like Leander, mentioned we are not training every day so it will take us time to get on the court and get those cobwebs out first.

Q) Tell us about your association with U.S. Polo Assn and their latest campaign “Legends Forever, Play Together.”

Leander: It is such a natural brand fit for both of us. For me in particular, it is wonderful to be part of the U.S. Polo Assn family. I love their clothes which are sporty and at the same time classy and chic.

Mahesh: When we were in talks for this campaign, their brand values resonated with us and the campaign made sense. I am someone who will endorse something only if I am going to use it and if I can associate with it. I am happy to partner again with Leander for this campaign.

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