Goodbye and good riddance to India’s Olympic hopes in tennis

I cannot bring myself, generally, to feel glad that a top notch sportsperson failed, more so when said sportspersons are Indian.    But as Leander Paes bowed out of the Mixed Doubles event, I could not help chuckling at the mighty fall of Indian tennis’s big egos.

Mahesh Bhupathi expressed regret that people would write off years and years of commitment to the Indian team after just one spat.  But it is indeed one grave mistake or miscalculation, real or perceived, that can make all the difference in the public eye.   Disagreements with the AITA are nothing new and not unwarranted either.  But it takes some remarkable suspension of logic to hope that people would continue to stand by the participants of a rather unsavoury verbal arm-wrestling bout.

When Leander Paes won the Australian Open mixed doubles title, I said that he was a doubles legend and deserved a lot more credit than he gets in this cricket-crazy country.   After the latest episode of Hesh v/s Lee, I can perhaps see why he doesn’t.  The Kapil-Sunny spat or the Dravid-Sachin cold war (more media made than real) have nothing on this never ending soap opera starring two of India’s most celebrated tennis champions.

Bhupathi harped on the fact that the combination AITA wanted to send to the Olympics had consistently failed to win a medal and a new combination should be tried out.  I have to agree; Bopanna and Vardhan or Devvarman and Vardhan were probably better bets.   Following Bhupathi’s logic, they couldn’t have done any worse than the pairs that India did eventually send to London 2012.

No, I am not being unrealistic.  I know very well that Vishnu Vardhan is not the doubles force that either Paes or Bhupathi was.  And that is why I have hoped, much like AITA perhaps, that they would keep personal differences aside and do what was in the best interests of Indian tennis.

It is often said that the Indian Govt is just not interested in promoting sporting excellence in the country and conveniently panders to the pervasive cricket mania than recognize unsung heroes – until they somehow win a medal against all odds or even then.   But the Lee-Hesh soap opera perhaps demonstrates that even if the Govt did deliver all that we expect them to on the sports front, it would not necessarily ensure a flurry of medals.

It is not even that Paes or Bhupathi may be insufferably selfish and egoistic performers.  Their success with, ironically, doubles players from other countries suggests otherwise, if anything.  It rather points to the country’s poor sense of priorities and inability to focus on the long-range perspective when attempting to resolve conflicts.

We are too quick to pacify hurt egos and too anxious not to offend sensibilities and far too reluctant to confront tough questions and chart out and implement a roadmap for success.   Success per se does not even figure very highly in our priorities; rather, the identity of success does.   It is apt that this country has, apparently, 31 crore Gods and Godesses because it has a similar number of superstars in different spheres of achievements and a disproportionately low magnitude of achievement in comparison to these numbers.    Everybody is his own God in his magic bubble and, as you well know, God only helps those who help themselves so it’s every God for himself in this immensely populated country.

Bhupathi is in a way bang on about his assessment of the failure of the Lee-Hesh combine; India has successfully written the epitaph for the most successful doubles pair it ever produced.   Voila!  Its chances of winning those bagfuls of tennis medals have disappeared until such time as a similarly talented bunch stokes hopes of success yet again.

Years later in the future, perhaps the media will reflect on the lost opportunity of the Lee-Hesh years and curse the Govt and AITA and lament the failure of our institutions to do what is necessary.  There may be a good deal of truth in that, but would it be the whole story?



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