Tough for India with world’s best tennis teams in action

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Tough for India with world’s best tennis teams in action

Posted on : Wednesday 27th of July 2016

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To win a Grand Slam (title) is the greatest thing in the sport, but to win an Olympics is the biggest thing you can do in all sports.” This was Andre Agassi, the owner of multiple majors including the coveted career Grand Slam, reflecting on his gold medal winning performance at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Coming from a man of his era, it was surprising. For, he played at a time when persuading top players to play even the Davis Cup, let alone the Olympics, was next to impossible.

But, it is not so for India. For a country which was unsure of its footing in the world and whose sporting culture has had considerable periods smitten by cynicism, the idea of playing for the nation even in the most individual of sports was always attractive.

“When my father put me in tennis, the only thing he wanted was for me to play for India,” Rohan Bopanna told The Hindu recently. And when Leander Paes secured the bronze in Atlanta — the first individual medal for India in over four decades — tennis’ status as one of India’s prime Olympic sports was sealed.

Not surprising

It is not surprising then to see public opinion swing and shape much of the tennis discourse. The selection process ahead of the 2012 London Games was acrimonious. The lead-up to Rio has been much smoother, but not without controversies.

Bopanna chose Saketh Myneni as his partner. Many cried foul. The All-India Tennis Association intervened and sought to pair Bopanna with six-time Olympian Paes. The duo turned out against South Korea in the Davis Cup recently to sort out their differences. A win in straight sets ensued.

“For men’s doubles, the senior selection committee did a good job having Leander against Korea,” said Zeeshan Ali, the Davis Cup coach and captain of the Indian Olympic squad.

“It gave me the opportunity to sit down with them and for them to sit down with each other.

“We were together as one unit and that always helps.

“I would have ideally preferred them to have played a couple of tournaments. But with their rankings, they wouldn’t have got in. It was a catch-22 situation.”

Zeeshan’s worry is understandable. The Olympics will see some of the world’s best teams in action like the Bryan brothers (Bob and Mike), Brazilians Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares among others. There will also be the world’s best singles players like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray playing doubles.

Returning empty handed

India, for a fact, didn’t win a medal even when it sent its best doubles pairing of Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi in 2000, 2004 and 2008.

“We know what the Bryans can do,” said Zeeshan. “Not so much about the singles players (who play doubles). But they can be good, like how Federer and Stan Wawrinka won the gold in 2008.

“So there is lot of unpredictability. We can’t plan and strategise much. We are also going to have the disadvantage of not being seeded. That will mean we could play anybody in the first round,” said Zeeshan.

“A medal is going to be long shot,” said Davis Cup captain Anand Amritraj. “The Davis Cup and Olympics are competitions at completely different levels.”

The women’s doubles presents a tougher challenge. World No. 1 Sania Mirza will pair up with Prarthana Thombare, ranked 603.

The only occasion the two have played together after clinching a bronze in the Asian Games at Incheon in 2014 was during the Fed Cup in February this year against Japan, a match they lost.

“Very tough,” said Zeeshan. “Prarthana will be under a lot of pressure. It’s probably the biggest event of her life and partnering the World No.1 isn’t easy. They will not be seeded.”

Perhaps mixed doubles presents the best medal opportunity.

The Bopanna-Sania duo is a scratch pair indeed, but so will be most others, for the event doesn’t exist outside the four Majors. And as Bopanna said recently, with a 10-point super tie-breaker for the third set, it can be anybody’s match.

“It is our best hope,” said Zeeshan.

“But again they are not likely to be seeded. I am also concerned that they haven’t played together for so long.

“The last was the IPTL (International Premier Tennis League) which was more an exhibition. But having said that I am glad they are all assembling on August 1. We will have nearly a week.

“We definitely have the firepower,” insists Zeeshan.

“On paper we have the team to come back with a medal, but it depends on the kind of draw we get.”

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