Paes-Bhupathi to team up for Athens Olympics

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi to pair up again a month before the Athens Olympics.

Updated: February 25, 2007 10:06 IST
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New Delhi:

Indian tennis fans' agonising wait to see their champion performers Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi pair up again is now certain to last till mid-July, with the re-union expected just a month before the Athens Olympics. Bhupathi said the former world number one pair would come together at the start of hard courts season and the month-long tune up was more than enough to get their rhythm going. "It (Olympics) is different. That is exactly why we are going to play in those events together before the Olympics, so we will be ready when we get to Athens," Bhupathi said today. The doubles specialist said the couple of clay court events on the calendar before the Athens Olympics, where the tennis event would be played on hard court, would not be a problem. "We are playing the events on hard courts, so we should be fine," he said. That would mean he would not be playing on the same side of the net with Paes until at least the $380,000 Mercedez-Benz Cup in Los Angeles starting on July 12. The LA event is followed by the $600,000 RCA Championships in Indianapolis and two Masters Series in Toronto and Cincinatti. The tennis events at Athens begin on August 15. New pairs In the Olympic year, the professional circuit has seen the birth of several new pairs in recent weeks. Players of same nationality have joined hands to get themselves tuned in time for Athens. In fact, the top-25 of the ATP Doubles Race features at least 17 such teams. But the Indians' logic is obviously to peak at the right time. More important would be to preserve their ranking - Bhupathi is number five on the Doubles Entry list and Paes is 20 - which could be affected by a couple of unavoidable upsets and get a seeding at the mega event. Then let the natural chemistry that bonds them so beautifully work at the opportune time. For Bhupathi, an Olympic gold would be the coveted metal to adorn his cupboard that already contains seven Grand Slam titles. "Nothing can come ahead of an Olympic gold. It is something every athlete dreams of winning and there are very few who have an opportunity to make the dream come true," Bhupathi said in an e-mail interview. The comment marks quite a turn around in the 30-year old tennis star's outlook. For, exactly four years ago, the Bangalorean did not even think of playing at sport's biggest stage after severing ties with his compatriot. But a lot of water has flown under the bridge since then. The duo, who reached all the four Grand Slam finals besides winning the French Open and the Wimbledon in 1999, came together and parted ways again in 2002. The second 'divorce' however was handled with more maturity and the two had played for India in the team events like the Davis Cup and Asian Games, where they won the gold at Busan two years ago. India's medal hopes It is this natural bonding between the two that has kept India's medal hopes alive. What has been a dampener of spirit, however, is their individual performance this season so far. Coming back from an eight-month lay off owing to a brain lesion, Paes reached his third Grand Slam mixed doubles final with the legendary Martina Navratilova at the Australian Open in January. But he has played only four tour events partnered by Czech Republic's David Rikl and no title to show. The pair has slipped to 47 in the Doubles Race and is unseeded at the Italian Masters. Bhupathi, on the other hand, has been playing four different players because his regular partner Belarussian Max Mirnyi had reduced his programme this year to 15 events. Bhupathi did win two titles with Frenchman Fabrice Santoro but a semifinal appearance at Indian Wells Masters has been the best performance so far with Mirnyi. The champion player is not worried, though. "Max (Mirnyi) and me have only played the really big events (Grand Slams and Tennis Masters Series). "We are just looking to get a few more matches under our belt over the next couple of weeks and hit form by the time the French Open and Wimbledon are around the corner," he said. Meanwhile, the 'Entry by Country' for Olympic tennis events closed on April 1. India is one of the 77 countries to have put in their application before the deadline closed. These nations are not guaranteed places in the Tennis Event in Athens, but by entering 'By Country' they have the right to either enter players eligible for direct entry by ranking, or apply for ITF Places (Wild Cards). (PTI)

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