February 1, 2008 / 12:39 AM / 10 years ago

India's tennis express back on track

<p>File photo shows Indian tennis player Mahesh Bhupathi smiling during a news conference in New Delhi May 23, 2007.Vijay Mathur</p>

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Mahesh Bhupathi believes he and Leander Paes will have no trouble putting their off-the-court differences behind them at August's Olympic Games and says they can win a medal for India.

The former world number one pair, nicknamed the Indian Express, won three grand slam titles together between 1999 and 2001 but have had a turbulent relationship for several years.

Despite their differences, Bhupathi and Paes are set to team up for India again in Beijing, having finished fourth in the Athens Olympics four years ago.

They have not played together since December, 2006, when they won the Asian Games doubles gold medal in Doha, after which they announced that they would never play together again.

Their quarrel in Qatar was a public affair, with both members of the former Davis Cup pairing criticizing each other after Paes questioned Bhupathi's fitness and commitment following India's early exit from the men's team event.

BEST CHOICE

The lure of the Olympics appears to be too strong for either of them to ignore, however. Paes recently said he would be happy for them to reunite and Bhupathi told Reuters that he was sure they would do well together.

"I think logically that (playing with Paes) would be the best choice for the country; we want to win a medal," Bhupathi said at the Australian Open where he reached the mixed doubles final with compatriot Sania Mirza in his first major event since back surgery last October.

"On the court the chemistry is there. Every time we have taken a break and come back, we have found a way to put our differences aside and win, so hopefully that will happen again.

<p>India's Mahesh Bhupathi (R) reacts after winning a point as his team partner Leander Paes looks on during their doubles match in the Davis Cup tennis tournament against Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman and Simon Aspelin in New Delhi in this September 26, 2005 file photo. Bhupathi believes he and Paes will have no trouble putting their off-the-court differences behind them at August's Olympic Games and says they can win a medal for India.Adnan Abidi</p>

"(The problems) have been happening for a long time, so we're dealing with it."

Every move Bhupathi and Paes make together in Beijing is bound to be closely scrutinized in India, where they are worshipped as sporting heroes almost on a par with the country's cricketers.

FRENCH OPEN

Bhupathi, a year younger than Paes at 33, said he enjoyed the adulation.

"It's nice. Unfortunately we don't have that many (top-level players)," he said. "But we put in a lot of work, so to be recognized for that is nice. I guess it motivates us to work harder.

"At the same time you have to put things in perspective, you can't let it go to your head, you're here to do a job. I love what I do, so work comes first, results come and then everything else comes later."

Bhupathi and Paes won the French Open and Wimbledon in 1999, the year they reached the final of all four grand slam tournaments, and they won a second French Open title in 2001.

Bhupathi has won a total of 10 grand slam titles in men's and mixed doubles, while Paes has won eight.

Paes already owns one Olympic medal -- a singles bronze from the 1996 Atlanta Games which remains the only medal India has won in tennis.

Editing by Clare Fallon

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