Rohan Bopanna is a big Manchester United fan. He would know how Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham detested each other for 15 years, but got the job of scoring goals done. There were delicious slights that went back and forth and all the offence of the world taken, but there was also the silverware — a Champions League trophy, three league titles and an FA Cup — when all the mutual sniping was done. In tennis, there were Boris Becker and Michael Stich who haven’t quite come around to maturely sitting down over a bottle of wine and talking about just where things went wrong between them. But they have the shared doubles gold from the Barcelona Olympics, should they need an ice-breaker.
Hatchets need to be buried, and not always in each other’s backs, and Rohan Bopanna who finally graciously accepted the selectors’ pairing of him with Paes, can look back at those two precedents to realise that deep personal mistrust needn’t meddle with medals. Neither Paes’ 18 Grand Slams nor Bopanna’s 0 (though he has a final at the US Open) have added up to an Olympic doubles medal. Come to think of it, neither did Mahesh Bhupathi’s 15 and Sania Mirza’s 10 have any bearing on the quadrennial doubles podium. But since both Paes and Bopanna would like that medal very much, they could do each other the favour of playing excellent tennis, never mind the personal animus. A medal should be the highest motivation, and if it takes clearing the air with an incompatible partner, then Bopanna’s task is cut out, and clear.
There’s a lifetime ahead to snipe at each other — just ask Stich and Becker. But should they win an Olympic medal, people will at least be interested in watching the two greats throw darts at each other. Otherwise, in the Olympic scheme of things, doubles tennis will remain irrelevant.
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