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Mahesh Bhupathi exudes the confidence of a man who has nine Grand Slam titles: be it flashing a V sign to cameras during the unveiling of the Sunfeast Open or snubbing you with a terse "Don't ask me stupid questions" when you ask him why the security overdose around tennis sensation Sania Mirza [Images].
In Kolkata, Mahesh is sporting a new avatar. His organisation, Globosport, is one of the organisers of the Women's Tennis Association tier III event. And insiders say it is largely because of him that big names like world number 13 Anastasia Myskina [Images] are participating in the event's debut year.
On the sidelines of a qualifying round match -- eyes constantly on the ball on court -- Mahesh spoke with rediff India Abroad Senior Features Editor Sumit Bhattacharya about India's newest sports sensation.
Tennis in India was a niche sport. You and Leander Paes [Images] inspired the Indian tennis dream. Do you think the game is poised for a mass revolution in India?
I think it's a process. Leander and me probably started the revolution, and now Sania is taking it to a different level. So as much success as Sania has, people are just going to keep coming to the game more and more.
Why do you say Sania has taken it to a new level?
I think you guys can see it for yourself. The media she gets, the fans and the following that she has, the endorsements that she has... . She has created an image for herself and she is, hopefully, going to be a one-woman industry soon.
How did you spot her?
Spotting talent -- I guess if you play the game or understand the game enough � it is not that hard. I obviously knew she had something special. Even at a young age, she had that forehand of hers. It was just a matter of developing it. Obviously, she has put in all the hard work she had to, to get to this level today, so she deserves it.
Her forehand is a big weapon. She has got very solid ground strokes. She has got a big heart and she is not scared of playing the big names. Off court, she carries herself great. You know, there are a lot of celebrities who don't have personality, but she has a great personality and she deals with the media really well. She deals with her sponsors very well, and I think that's why they are lining up to sign her.
She's got a few parts of her game which she can work on. She's young and she's got a long way to go, so, hopefully, she will identify them after her season's over this year and work on them in the off season.
Do you see her developing as a doubles player?
Ya. Why not? It's a process again and she's got to start playing a lot more doubles; she hasn't played that much. More she plays, she'll understand the game and become more comfortable with it.
At this level, how do doubles pairings work?
She would just have to ask someone who she is comfortable playing with, who she enjoys playing with and they'll have to make a team out of that.
Tennis has always been a glamour game. When we think off Chris Evert-Lloyd, we probably think of more than just her game. Do you think glamour plays a part in being a tennis star?
I don't think tennis is a glamour game, not at all. For every Chris Evert there's a Martina Navratilova, for every [Boris] Becker there's an [Ivan] Lendl, who is 100 per cent hard work. And there's no glamour attached to that.
Do you see a change in the way sponsors are approaching tennis players post you, Leander and now Sania?
No. Sania obviously has a market for herself. Other than that, people have to prove themselves before sponsors approach them.
The vice-president of your organisation Globosport was quoted as saying Sania is being offered more money by sponsors than Rahul Dravid [Images] is. Comment.
Don't believe everything you read. Obviously, those quotes were fabricated, because I know for a fact he didn't say that. I think we know today that Sania is in the top five celebrities in the country, sports-wise. That's all because of her hard work and she deserves every bit of adulation that she is getting.
What about the blanket security cover around her here [Kolkata].
What about it?
How does it affect her as a player, this talk of a fatwa?
It affects you, obviously; when you don't do anything wrong, and when you are doing everything to bring fame to your country, you come home after a great US Open, and the first thing you hear is this in the press.
Obviously, it's going to affect you. I know it for a fact it has affected her. But I know she is mentally pretty strong and, hopefully, she will get over it.
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