Leander Paes created history in 1996, as he became the first Indian to win an individual Olympic medal since 1952 with bronze at the Atlanta Olympics. It was Indian tennis’ first Olympic medal and ended a medal drought India had endured in the past three Olympic Games.
Later in 1997, he teamed up with Mahesh Bhupathi and the duo regularly paired up in men’s doubles competitions around the world. Nicknamed the “Indian Express", they proved to be one of the best doubles pairs in the years to come - winning three Grand Slam titles, 25 ATP Tour titles, rising to world No. 1, and still holding the Davis Cup record for the longest streak of doubles victories.
Now, in a recent interview with News18, Paes explained the reason for coming together with Bhupathi to narrate their story. To note, since their public fallout a decade ago, there has been much speculation about the fragility of their relationship.
Speaking about his fallout with Bhupathi, Leander said that in any passionate relationship, there are bound to be highs and lows. “Through all our differences, recognising that we are different personalities, we have different emotions, we still have so much respect for each other. Most of the times that we stood on podiums with trophies in our hands, our relationship was at its worst. But at the same time, we could hug each other and say, “‘Jeet toh liya Wimbeldon ya Olympics toh khele ek saath’," he said.
When asked how he would define his relationship with Bhupathi, he said, “Brotherhood," adding, “We are different individuals and it is not about who is right or wrong, it is about unconditional brotherhood. The beauty about our relationship is that we didn’t want to change each other but accepted who we are."
To everyone’s surprise, their daughters Aiyana Paes and Saira Bhupathi, who are two years apart attend the same school and also play tennis together. When asked if we can see the legacy being taken forward, Paes said, “Mahesh and I joked about them pairing up but there is a lot of hard work and dedication that goes into the sport. They are still young and both of us are open to allow them to follow their dreams. I remember Saira on her first day of school went up to Aiyana and told, ‘Do you know our papas are friends,’ and Aiyana replied, ‘They are not only friends but have achieved great success together and I am your friend here in school and if you need anything, just come up to me.’ So it’s great to see the new generation building this bond."
Paes and Bhupathi have now reunited to share their story with Break Point - a docu-series helmed by filmmaker couple Nitesh Tiwari and Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari.
Image source: Instagram/leanderpaes