India's tennis ace Leander Paes, who is engaged in a bitter court battle with his partner Rhea Pillai for the custody of their eight-year-old daughter Aiyana, has received support from a very unlikely quarter.
Paes's former doubles partner, Mahesh Bhupathi, with whom he had a bitter falling out, has come out and spoken in favour of Paes, claiming he could "never get abusive or violent."
Paes recently filed a petition in the Bandra Family Court seeking the custody of his daughter from Rhea, citing reasons ranging from irresponsibility to infidelity. Rhea had told mid-day in that she was "abused and threatened" and that she feels "unsafe and insecure" in her house.
She has also decided to file a case of domestic violence against Paes. mid-day had reported on May 9 that Pillai had filed a complaint with the Bandra police, alleging that Paes had locked her out of her own house.
Bhupathi, however, claimed that Paes's nature is far from abusive. "I've spent a lot of time with Leander and can vouch for the fact that his nature is far from abusive. He can never get violent either.
On the contrary, if he is angry or upset, he simply withdraws and goes into a shell," Bhupathi told mid-day from Manila yesterday, after announcing a change in venue for his inaugural franchise-based International Premier Tennis League from Bangkok in Thailand to the Philippines capital.
Paes and Bhupathi go back a long way they were the first Indian pair to dominate men's doubles worldwide. The duo won three men's doubles Grand Slam titles together while excelling for India in the Davis Cup thereafter.
Even though the pair went their separate ways in 2011, it's probably the emotions of those special moments that have got Bhupathi to play on the same side of this court battle as Paes.
"Leander and I may have had a difference of opinion and split, but this is a very emotional moment in his life and I'd like to support him. I've been through a divorce myself and realise how tough this can be. Lawyers somehow revel in this kind of mudslinging," added Bhupathi, who divorced wife Shweta Jaishanker and thereafter married actor Lara Dutta, with whom he has a two-year-old daughter Saira.
It's no wonder then that he realises the emotional state of a father and the sensitivity of the consequences of the situation on the child. "There is a little child involved here and I hope that she is protected. She is nowhere to blame in all this and deserves to be treated fairly," added the Bangalorean.
Rhea was reported as saying recently that Paes was "hardly ever involved in Aiyana's parenting." Bhupathi countered that by saying, "I have met Aiyana a few times. Leander has brought her along to our practice sessions; on the Tour as well as during the Davis Cup and I can confidently say that Aiyana and Leander are extremely close. He is a doting father and she loves him a lot. I do hope Aiyana is protected from all of this," Bhupathi signed off.