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Lee-Hesh may team up together for one final time

Last updated on: September 18, 2010 20:26 IST

Lee-Hesh have won 24th Davis Cup matches together

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Bikash Mohapatra

It's a story of a partnership that ensured Indian tennis a brief period of glory before it went awry.

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi joined forces in the mid-90s, peaked in 1999 - winning two and reaching the finals of all the four majors, inspired hopes among millions of Indians and then went separate ways.

What transpired between them is best left to the duo but it was certainly a loss for India in general and Indian tennis (and its fans) in particular.

On occasions they decided to bury the hatchet and join forces, they recreated the magic - the best examples of this being their French Open triumph in 2001, the Asian Games gold and of course, their record streak in Davis Cup doubles.

On Saturday, the Indian Express eased past the Brazilian combine of Bruno Soares and Marcelo Melo (6-4, 7-6, 6-1) to not only keep the Indian hopes alive but also to extend their winning run in the competition to an impressive 24 matches.

Since joining forces for the first time in the Davis Cup World Group qualifying tie against Croatia at New Delhi in September 1995, Lee and Hesh (as they are fondly called) have won 25 of their 27 Davis Cup doubles matches.


Image: Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi

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'Had we continued, we could have won a few more'

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For the record, they beat Goran Ivanisevic and Sasa Hirszon in their maiden match and last lost a Davis Cup doubles back in 1996 - to the Swedish duo of Jonas Bjorkman and Nicklas Kulti in Kolkata. Their only other loss in the competition came in the same year against the Dutch duo of Jacco Eltingh and Paul Haarhuis in Jaipur.

Their win on Saturday raised that question again, a question that has been repeatedly asked ever since they decided to split. Is there a possibility of them coming together again?

And on this occasion both of them came up with an answer that sounded similar.

"Sure," said Leander, smiling as always.

"The best thing happening over time is that we have both grown up and started respecting each other as individuals," he continued, adding, "We take sole responsibility of the not so good things that has happened in our respective careers."

Bhupathi concurred.

"It is easy to sit back and wonder," he said. "People have been asking us this question since 2002.

"But the fact is both of us are happy now and have our set goals. Now we have both matured. He has won titles with other partners and so have I," he added, before making an honest admission.

"But yes, had we continued may be we would have won a few more."


Image: Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi

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'We are happy to have ensured our team a doubles point'

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The duo though expressed their satisfaction of delivering the results on a regular basis in the Davis Cup.

"Our responsibility towards the team is to ensure them a doubles point and we are happy to have done so over the years," said Leander.

Bhupathi offered an elaboration.

"When you have played alongside each other so much in the past, it becomes a habit," he reasoned, adding, "You would be surprised to know that the set-plays that we had in 1997, is something that we use even now.

"It just needs a few days of practice to get back into the rhythm."

So can we expect the magic to ensure a gold medal at the upcoming Commonwealth Games in Delhi, where tennis is making its competitive debut?

"As regards the Commonwealth Games, Hesh is cool about playing in Bangkok, which is two weeks from now," said Leander. "We will team up at that ATP event in preparation for the CWG and then see how it goes," he added.

Bhupathi nodded in the affirmative.

And even though at the twilight of their respective careers, the duo's reconsideration, if we can term it that, will ensure the Indian tennis fan keeps waiting for it to happen, in eager anticipation.


Image: Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi

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