A simmering feud between tennis stalwarts Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi has boiled over into an ugly public spat following India’s latest Davis Cup triumph in Bangalore.
No sooner had the hosts sealed a 4-1 win Sunday over Uzbekistan in the second round of the Davis Cup Asia/Oceania Group I tie, than Bhupathi lashed out at his former doubles partner, who was dropped from the squad last week.
“We gave him the option (of being a part of the squad and playing as a reserve) and he readily took it,” Bhupathi, the non-playing Davis Cup captain, said after the win helped India qualify for the World Group playoff.
“So after that, to sulk about not being in the (playing) four was a bit unprofessional,” Bhupathi said of his friend-turned-foe.
Adding fuel to the fire, Bhupathi put up a screenshot of his WhatsApp conversation with Paes on social media in a free-for-all slugfest aimed at countering Paes’ charge of being dropped in humiliating fashion at the last minute.
The conversation suggested that Paes had agreed to join the squad despite being told there was no guarantee he would be in the final four.
Paes, 43, hit back, accusing Bhupathi of using his position to deliberately keep him out of the squad.
“I was never categorically told that I would not be playing, but it was apparent that the decision was made before I arrived in Bangalore. This is what I found unnecessary and disrespectful,” Paes said in a statement.
“That a private (WhatsApp) exchange has been made public just points to the kind of conduct that I find unbecoming of a Davis Cup captain…
“Talk is cheap, history books, however, don’t lie.”
Paes, dropped for the first time in 27 years, is just one win away from becoming the most successful doubles player in Davis Cup history.
With 42 doubles wins, Paes is currently tied with Italian legend Nicola Pietrangeli. Paes, whose Atlanta bronze was India’s first individual medal at a Games since 1952, has 18 Grand Slam doubles trophies — eight in men’s doubles and 10 in mixed.
He shared three of his Grand Slam doubles titles with Bhupathi. The chest-bumps the duo exchanged after winning every point became an emblem of their partnership, which at its peak was hailed as the “Indian Express”.
They continued to team up occasionally on court, even as the friendship began to derail. But their verbal volleys gradually turned sharper, with frequent spats over team spots, most notably ahead of the 2012 Olympics.
On Sunday Bhupathi turned to Facebook to accuse Paes of turning up late for matches, taking his spot in the squad for granted, and not adhering to uniform and other team guidelines.
Bhupathi said that when he started out there was only one train on the tracks, referring to the clout that Paes enjoyed on the circuit. But all that was about to change, Bhupathi warned.
“There is a new train on the tracks, it’s to get India back to the World Group, it’s full of energy, youth, positivity, hard work, and dreams. Those who don’t like it should stay out of the way because we don’t plan to stop till we get there!!!”
If Novak Djokovic was looking to gain some positive energy from Davis Cup to get his season back on track then Serbia’s triumphant weekend in Belgrade over Spain has probably done the trick.
The world No2 led Serbia to their first Davis Cup semi-final since 2013 and has already said he’ll to his best to make himself available for that last-four tie against France in September.
Serbia completed a 4-1 victory over a Spanish squad led by world No19 Pablo Carreno Busta, who was his nation’s No1 player in just his third ever appearance in the competition.
The Serbs will next fly to France for a rematch of their 2010 final, where Djokovic helped Serbia claim their first Davis Cup crown.
“France have had so much success in the Davis Cup down the years,” Djokovic, who is on a 12-match winning streak in singles rubbers in the competition, told www.daviscup.com.
“All their players develop through the Davis Cup as a very important competition for their system, which in turn generates support from the French Tennis Federation. The French are very hungry after coming up short recently and will undoubtedly have their defeat to us in the 2010 final on their minds.
“They are likely to pick red clay at Roland Garros or Monte Carlo for the clash and I will do my best to make myself available for the semis because we all value playing for our country. We will be out to do battle against one of the best Davis Cup nations. I am now relishing the clay court season as I felt really well throughout this Davis Cup week.”
The French booked their place in the semis with a 4-1 rout of an Andy Murray-less Great Britain. Lucas Pouille got the home side on the board in Rouen before Nicolas Mahut and Julien Benneteau secured an unassailable 3-0 lead by clinching the doubles tie.
The other semi-final pits Australia against Belgium after they claimed wins over USA And Italy respectively.
Here’s a look at the highlights from Davis Cup weekend:
Making just his second ever appearance for Australia in Davis Cup, the 22-year-old world No79 clinched the first point for the hosts in Brisbane by upsetting world No15 Jack Sock, who has been on fire so far in 2017, picking up two titles and standing just behind Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in leading number of match wins this season. Nick Kyrgios may have secured the knockout punch for the Aussies against USA but Thompson certainly made things easier for him with that crucial opening point.
Moez Echargui over Marcos Baghdatis
You’d have to go down in the Davis Cup hierarchy to the Europe/Africa zonal Group II relegation play-offs for this one. Tunisia claimed an impressive 4-1 win over Cyprus away in Nicosia but it wasn’t their No1 Malek Jaziri who stole the show but the unheralded world No799 Moez Echargui. The 24-year-old La Marsa-native upset former top-10er and current world No56 Marcos Baghdatis (who just last year was a runner-up at the ATP 500 Dubai tournament) 7-5, 7-6 (2), 4-6, 4-6, 6-1 in the second rubber of the tie to give the Tunisians a 2-0 lead. This was just Echargui’s second Davis Cup tie.
Carreno Busta’s tweener
He may have lost his match against Viktor Troicki but Pablo Carreno Busta’s tweener lob winner against the Serb will at least serve as a special memento to take away from the tie. Even the Serbian home crowd applauded this beauty.
Mahut goes the extra mile
Leave it tennis’ own marathon man, Nicolas Mahut, to go above and beyond just to hit back one shot. In his doubles win with Julien Benneteau against Jamie Murray and Dom Inglot, Mahut fired this ball back FROM THE STANDS.
I’m skipping all the players who actually contested matches this past weekend and will go straight to France captain Yannick Noah, who delivered this performance at the official dinner.
Novak Djokovic is set to make his first appearance since his last-16 exit at Indian Wells three weeks ago as he headlines the Serbia squad facing Spain in the Davis Cup quarter-finals this weekend in Belgrade (April 7-9).
The world No2, who pulled out of Miami with a right elbow injury, is hoping he can turn around what has been a sub-par season so far by guiding his nation to a first semi-final since 2013.
Djokovic, who is on an 11-match winning streak in Davis Cup singles rubbers, will be joined by Viktor Troicki, Dusan Lajovic and doubles specialist Nenad Zimonjic in Team Serbia, who take on a Rafael Nadal-less Spain squad.
“I personally always draw very positive energy from these weeks,” said Djokovic was quoted as saying on www.daviscup.com during the pre-weekend press conference in the Serbian capital.
“I have shared some amazing moments in my career, in my life, with the people that are sitting at this table. I have had throughout my life very friendly relationships and very close relationships with all these guys. Having that in mind and approaching these weeks it always brings the best out of me.