Which should come first — self or the nation? It is not a question like which came first — the egg or the chicken? That the nation’s interest is more important than personal interest is one of the basic premises on which modern states are built. But for some tennis players, self takes precedence over everything else. When the All India Tennis Association (AITA) paired Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi for the London Olympics, it could not have chosen a better team for the doubles event. After all, they had won the doubles title at Chennai in 2011 and seemed ready to add to the 22 doubles titles they had won together.
Alas, Bhupathi has written to the AITA that he would not be Paes’ partner on the court, recalling a letter he had written to the association before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. And to confound the problem, Rohan Bopanna, too, declined to pair with Paes. The rules permit India to send two teams but Paes put a spanner in the works by his objection to be paired with any player of low ranking. The government, which foots the Olympic bill, could not do much to sort out the issue as the association acted like a disinterested third party.
It is not known why Paes and Bhupathi fell apart. They were an unstoppable pairing earning the nickname “Indian Express”. They won the doubles titles at the French Open and Wimbledon in 1999, and added another French doubles title in 2001 before they went their separate ways. As singles, Paes and Bhupathi do not have much tennis left in them but as doubles, they are still a formidable pair. By behaving like cantankerous children, they have come down in public esteem while the AITA, which could have shown greater sensibility to their differences, has proved itself to be a toothless entity.