That’s gone past the line

Tennis soap opera: seen it,heard it,can’t take it anymore

Written by Sandeep Dwivedi | Published: June 20, 2012 3:16 am

Tennis soap opera: seen it,heard it,can’t take it anymore

The desire for younger company has resulted in an ugly split of another elderly couple. It’s an age-old tale,which initially generates curiosity,but after a point gets utterly boring. In a bid to have the relatively faster and stronger Rohan Bopanna by their side,Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes have rolled up their sleeves. As allegations of backstabbing,lying,deception and even breaking pre-nuptials of the tennis kind surface every day,Indian sports’ longest running daytime soap,with its convoluted storyline of adultery,gets lame end-of-the-episode twists. But despite the suspense,it has become excruciatingly tedious to stay tuned. Seen it,heard it,can’t take it anymore.

While the majority of India’s other London-bound Olympians are cocooned in training camps across the globe,the tennis stars are publicly badmouthing each other,with followers,friends and fathers providing the background noise. The vengeance that is generally reserved for rivals,at events of Olympic stature,is being wasted on each other. The clothesline is out on the front porch for the world to view the dirty linen from their two-decade-long,more-off-than-on relationship. Malicious off-the-record plants and spiteful e-mails are flying around as another season of intrigue unfolds.

But then these tennis stars have stuck to this bizarre pre-big event routine for way too long now. Virtually every countdown to the Davis Cup,Asiad or the Olympics in recent times have added a layer of mistrust around the small,but deeply divided Indian tennis fraternity. Camp Paes vs Camp Bhupathi is a regular battle that gets played on the sidelines,with officials turning cheerleaders and rookies getting caught in the crossfire.

If the All India Tennis Association (AITA) sticks to its stand and Paes-Bhupathi do remain India’s only entry at London 2012,Bopanna will be the latest victim of this feud.

The tug-of-war between the two nearing-40 stalwarts had seen the 32-year-old Bopanna breaking a highly successful partnership with Pakistan’s Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi. As Bopanna took turns playing with Paes and Bhupathi,without much success,his ranking plummeted. So,when the national selection committee sat to pick the Olympic squad,Bopanna wasn’t in the Top 10,thus unable to get a direct entry. This resulted in Paes-Bhupathi being India’s lone entry for London.

That triggered a series of outbursts which was more emotional than logical. Players and officials outdid each other as they got involved in an unending baseline slugfest with the ball hit to the other side of the court with brutal rage. Sports Minister Ajay Maken too jumped down from the umpire’s chair to hit a few balls.

Bhupathi says he refuses to partner Paes as the two haven’t been able to crack the Olympic code in four attempts. Since doubles is about equal responsibility,shouldn’t Bhupathi too stay at home and advise AITA to invest in a junior pair? Anyway,by giving five straight Olympics — two decades in fact — to non-performers,hasn’t the AITA given them a really long rope? In India,where sporting icons are a pampered lot,it is debatable. But in these desperate times,by drawing national attention to his own dubious Olympic record,Bhupathi is giving ideas to the selectors.

Paes,on the other hand,is reminding Bhupathi and Bopanna about their promised unconditional availability for national duty but adds that it would be unfair if he gets paired with a lesser player.

The biggest loser in the affair,Bopanna,moans how he was “made to believe” by officials at the start of the year that he would be paired with Bhupathi at the London Games. Made to believe? Is he so naive? The Olympics isn’t some weekend tennis gala at a suburban gymkhana where entries are taken on phone. Besides,Bopanna would have interacted with AITA officials long enough to know that even their words cast in stone can fade overnight.

It is being said that AITA should have gone into a huddle with the players and checked their preferences of partners before naming the team. They could have if they doubted the authority of their selection committee. Professionals can’t cite personal equations when it comes to national duty. For a system to work,selection committee decisions should be sacrosanct.

Aussie cricketers Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist,not the best of friends,stood within shaking distance of each other all day but never spoke. Yet,they could plot intricate dismissals as only a leg-spinner and wicket-keeper can. If comparing cricket and tennis is akin to putting apples and oranges in one basket,then listen to this: Boris Becker and Michael Stich,compatriots but bitter rivals,joined hands to give Germany an Olympics gold in doubles. Forget those greats,even Bhupathi and Paes have had successful outings at Grand Slams without being the best of buddies.

What’s the way out of this present mess? One option could be hiring an empty hall with padded walls,following which all the warring factions (players,officials,followers,friends,fathers and,if he wishes,even the sports minister) should be passed through metal detectors and herded inside. They can take their time,thrash out their differences once and for all and make a short announcement about who goes to London. The fans have had enough. It’s high time this dragging soap went off the air and made way for the Bindras,Vijenders,Sushils and Sainas.

sandeep.dwivedi@expressindia.com

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