REVEALED: How the Paes-Bhupathi split began

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: I have a tennis player-friend, a former office-bearer of one of the oldest and most reputed tennis clubs in Mysore, who was/is close to some of India's star tennis players.

Over a beer or two last evening, he told me of an incident that happened in Madras in 2001.

My friend was a shocked eyewitness to one of the most bizarre and completely nerve-wracking incidents in the life of undoubtedly two of the greatest tennis stars in the history of Indian tennis, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi.

An incident that unfortunately redefined not only the two players' close bond of friendship but also the very face and future of Indian tennis on the international circuit, especially in doubles play.

The Gold Flake Open was on in Chennai and the players were housed at the Taj. One evening at the hotel bar, the two players were having a good time. A few friends too, like my friend from Mysore, were part of the scene which was so full of warmth and good cheer until the dancing began.

One of the star duo wanted to dance with a particular Bollywood damsel, whose name did not begin with L or N, for whom he had more than a glad eye.

And so too did the other star. And herein hangs a tale.

Of envy, desire, ego, pelf and human frailty.

The two, clouded in the spirits of the evening began to tug at the damsel’s hand wanting her to dance with them. Both seemed quite unrelenting in their quest to ‘bag’ the lady.

And then all hell broke loose, my friend told me.

The two got physical, mercifully not with the young lady but with themselves. Tugging at each other’s shirts, punching each other in the face, pushing, shoving and screaming obscenities at each other, they made a ghastly spectacle.

And worse, the fight went on and on and the two ended up in the small passage between the rows of rooms on the fourth floor. The maniacal thudding of their bodies against the wall was a sickly reminder of how hollow, absurd and weak in the mind even the most celebrated of sporting icons can be.

By the time the pent up fury had been discharged, what was left was literally a pile of tattered clothes and of course, reputations.

The next day, at 3.30 pm, was slotted their doubles encounter. The two did get on to the court together. And quite tragically, lost the match. And along with that match perhaps, a huge slice of the magic they so routinely conjured up on the tennis courts across the world.