Manesh Bhupathi: Doubles star aiming to boost brand Andy Murray
Indian player and thriving businessman is confident he can improve world No 2's commercial value now that they've teamed up, he tells Paul Newman
Almost every agent will insist – sometimes less than convincingly – that a client's sporting career must come first, ahead of any commercial considerations. When Mahesh Bhupathi, who is to become a central figure in Andy Murray's business entourage, says the Scot's focus "is obviously his tennis and trying to become world No 1", you do not doubt him.
Bhupathi, after all, knows what it takes to reach the top in tennis. A former world No 1 who has won 12 Grand Slam titles, the 38-year-old Indian, who will retire from competition at the end of this year, is still No 10 in the world doubles rankings and still winning tournaments.
For the last decade, nevertheless, he has combined his own playing career, albeit in the less demanding world of doubles, with his thriving business interests. Bhupathi and his sister, Kavita, founded Globosport, a sports and entertainment marketing agency based in India, 10 years ago.
Globosport has represented the tennis player Sania Mirza, who is one of the biggest names in Indian sport, and currently works with Somdev Devvarman and Sanam Singh, two of the country's leading male players. It has run major tournaments in Bangalore, Mumbai and Kolkata and there are 38 tennis academies which carry Bhupathi's name. Recently the company has been more involved in entertainment than in sport, making movies and television programmes.
Asked how he had found time for his sporting and business careers, Bhupathi laughed. "There's a lot of time in the day," he told The Independent. "Obviously, tennis takes maybe four or five hours a day, but the rest of the time is pretty idle, especially when you're travelling on tour."
Globosport's latest venture is in partnership with Simon Fuller's XIX Entertainment, which has managed Murray for the last four years. Murray is the first client of XIX Globosport, which will aim to capitalise on sports and entertainment opportunities in India and the Middle East in particular.
"India is a growing entertainment market," Bhupathi said. "We have 600 million of our population who are under the age of 30. They want to be entertained and are willing to pay for good entertainment. The potential is vast."
He added: "Tennis is a very big sport in India. Andy is big. But I'm working with Andy commercially on a global basis now. It's not like I'm focused on the Indian market. Actually, the Indian market isn't even on my list. I've reached out to multiple people over the last few days globally on some potential deals."
Asia, nevertheless, will be important. "There is money in Asia, not only in the Far East but also in the Middle East," Bhupathi said. "A lot of these brands from both markets are going global – clothing brands, airlines, technology, electronics, cars and so on. So wherever there is money we're going to try and see if there is a fit for Andy.
"Andy's got qualities that appeal to certain brands, for sure. He's one of the hardest-working guys out there. He's one of the biggest fighters. He's emotional. We saw that after the Wimbledon final last year. So we'll work on his attributes and positive qualities and we'll try and find that connect with some brands."
This is not the first time Murray has sprung a surprise in changing his back-room team. When starting out on his senior career he rejected the approaches of some of the biggest management agencies and instead joined forces with Patricio Apey, a Chilean who had set up his own company. Murray then signed up with Fuller, who had made his name as manager of the Spice Girls.
Bhupathi has known Murray "fairly well" for several years. He described him as "very personable" and with a good head for business, but also said he was "a very shy boy". While stressing the need for the world No 2 to concentrate on his tennis and conserve his energies – he said last month's "brutal" Miami Masters final against David Ferrer had demonstrated what a physical sport tennis has become – Bhupathi looked forward to "bringing him out of his shell".
Murray is likely to be a major target for another of Bhupathi's projects, an Asian tennis league mooted for the off season in November and December. It would involve franchises in cities across Asia recruiting teams of men and women players via an Indian Premier League cricket-style auction. The players, it is said, could earn up to $10m (£6.5m) for maybe three weeks' work, playing matches for their teams on a home-and-away basis.
The league, nevertheless, would be played at a time when Murray is usually in Florida at his close-season training camp. While many top players take part in lucrative exhibition matches during the off season it remains to be seen how many would be prepared to commit to such a league, particularly given the amount of travelling involved.
Bhupathi was reluctant to talk about the project, though he admitted it was looking more likely to start in 2014 than in 2013. "Doing the league is just a mammoth amount of work and I'm still playing active tennis," he said. "I finish playing at the end of the year, so maybe I'll be able to dedicate more time to it then."
He added: "Before I can talk to the players we have to see which cities are involved, what the dates are. In Asia we have multiple cities with multiple time zones with multiple weather issues. So there's too much to figure out before we can get there."
Although Globosport is based in Bangalore and Mumbai, Bhupathi plans to spend more time in London. The Italian Ugo Colombini, a former player who has guided Juan Martin del Potro's career, is joining the team and will provide support for Murray on tour.
In the wake of Murray's US Open victory last September industry experts were predicting that he might treble his off-court earnings to around £20m a year over the next five years.
Bhupathi believes he is the man to help the Scot realise his earning potential. "I understand the commercials around the sport – and not just doing commercial deals, but possibly licensing deals and digital deals," he said. "While the focus is obviously his tennis and trying to become world No 1, we'll be trying to maximise his off-court [earnings] with the least possible [demands on his] time."
A marketing mastermind... and not a bad player either
Mahesh Bhupathi won his first title when Andy Murray was in primary school, but the 38-year-old Indian is still going strong. The men's doubles title he won in Dubai last month alongside Michael Llodra was the 52nd of Bhupathi's career and means that he has now won at least one tournament every year on the Association of Tennis Professionals tour since 1997.
Having graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1995, Bhupathi made an early decision to give up singles, in which he never made the world's top 200. He quickly formed a highly successful partnership with his fellow Indian, Leander Paes, winning 12 titles in their first two years together playing regularly on the main tour. In 1999, when Bhupathi became world No 1 in doubles, they played in the finals at all four Grand Slam tournaments, winning at the French Open and Wimbledon but losing in Melbourne and New York.
Bhupathi has been particularly successful in mixed doubles, winning eight titles at Grand Slam level with seven different partners. The first of them, alongside Japan's Rika Hiraki at the 1997 French Open, was the first Grand Slam title won by an Indian player. The most recent was in partnership with his fellow Indian, Sania Mirza, at Roland Garros last year.
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