When Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes became the first Indian pair to win a Grand Slam at the 1999 French Open, it was a historic achievement celebrated across the country. The duo had already established themselves as top players in the 1990s – Paes with an Olympic medal in 1996 and Bhupathi with the first Grand Slam won by an Indian at the 1997 French Open (mixed doubles with Rika Hiraki). They became the first pair to reach the finals of all Grand Slams in a year in the Open era, winning French Open and Wimbledon as top seeds.
With a 25-2 record in Davis Cup matches and the distinction of the longest winning streak 24 and unbeaten - from 1997 to 2010 the duo dubbed as the “Indian Express", played together from 1994 to 2006 and reunited for their second stint from 2008 to 2011 before having a public fall out.
Bhupathi and Paes have now reunited to share their story with Break Point, a docu-series helmed by filmmaker couple Nitesh Tiwari and Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari.
Talking to News18.com, Bhupathi explained the reason of coming together with Paes to narrate their story, “In the past 10 years, we had been approached many times but it didn’t excite us. When we heard rumours about Nitesh and Ashwiny wanting to narrate the story, it intrigued us. They are the highest pedigree of storytellers and that’s when we decided to hear what they had to us. "
“There were two things that came up. One was that they were their love for tennis and the other thing was the way they wanted to tell the story. They were going to give us all the independence in telling the story and everything came together really well," he adds.
Despite all the differences, Bhupathi says that the most special aspect of the duo was their ability to come together to play for the country, regardless of their personal issues, “The main take away from the career was how to fight and succeed through adversities. Most of our success, especially in the tail end of our career came through all the adversities that we faced through the breakup. After going through all the footage while shooting for the film, I have a new found respect for what we were able to achieve and put Indian tennis on the global map."
He added, “When we won a gold in Doha at the Asian Games 2006), the amount of baggage that we were carrying on to the court before the tournament started was something that two normal Tennis players would not have gone past the first round (with), forget about winning the gold medal. We had the ability to solve problems once we were put in a professional situation and get the job done."
While the world knows about our on-court partnership, this is the first time that they will get to know about their off-court lives and relationship. Narrating these stories was not easy for Bhupathi who is also a shy person, “It was really emotional and difficult for me and I guess it was the same for Leander too. For the last 18 months, we have relived the two decades of our careers. Talking about the highs was fun but talking about the lows was super difficult, specifically for me as I am not very vocal person. Facing the camera with a big crew was really daunting (Laughs)."
Looking in the hindsight, Bhupathi agrees that he would have dealt his relation with Paes in a different way, “Of course both of us would like to change a lot of things that we had a done and certain decisions that we has taken. But the fact of the matter is that we are in 2021 so there is no point in getting into the past."
Despite of the bitter past, Bhupathi says that they will always share a special bond, “People won’t understand us as they haven’t experienced what we have gone through. Our relation is something that no one else can go through. It can’t be compared with any other relationship. Regardless of not talking or meeting after six months or anything we will always be there for each other."
Ask him if we can see the duo coming together on the court for a tennis match and Bhupathi says, “Yes why not? We shot one day together for Break Point which is the last shot of the series which we did in Bengaluru. We jokingly discussed that if Wimbledon invites us to play in the Over 45 category, we would love to come again and play."