Athens: Only Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi can do it. Sure they were seeded fifth and their rivals weren’t seeded at all. Yet, not many really believed that they would be able to hand out to a solid American pair of Andy Roddick (the world No. 2 singles player) and Mardy Fish (doubles ranking 99 now) a straight-sets defeat. The Indians beat the US pair 7-6 (7-5), 6-3 to move into the second round of the Olympic tennis championships.
It was a dream match for the Indians. The US pair’s body language spoke about a spell of complacency, perhaps, relying on their reputation and their booming serves. What Roddick & Co. had not taken into account was the great energy and fighting spirit that has brought several laurels to the Indian pair.
Games were going with serves, the Indians complementing each other excellently with net play. Roddick’s serve was something to admire, yet, there was surely this loss of concentration.
In the eighth game, for example, following a good rally, Paes and Bhupathi killed like there was no tomorrow. In the ninth game there were baseline retrieves by Bhupathi, and excellent volleying by Paes, while Roddick did finish with a trademark backhand down-the-line pass. That finally took the wind out of the Indians.
The break was not achieved in the set and the players went into tie-break. That was the time when Roddick started feeling a trifle uneasy maybe, knowing well that he would not be able to leave too quickly really for his singles engagement. Paes and Bhuhpathi had seized upon this. The tie-break and first set sealed, Roddick’s concentration was visibly on the wane.
In the first game of the second set following a bad return by Roddick, the American hollered, just about stopping short of the expletive.Paes kept his cool and his serve, and the match was surely going out of the Americans’ hands.
Games kept going with serves yet, till the sixth game when, with Fish serving, some exquisite returns from the Indians saw the score at 15-40. Roddick hit a return way out into the very windy skies. The Americans were broken, well and good.
Leading 4-2 and serving, Bhupathi went smoothly, beating a deuce, and Paes finished, killing beautifully from the net. When Roddick put the ball into the netting in the 11th game.
Paes and Bhupathi now take on yet another very strong pair, in World No. 1 singles player Roger Federer and Yves Allegro of Switzerland.
“It is the Olympics, and we can only expect tough competition,” Paes said later. “I am happy to have been able to win here, and any Olympic victory is very special.”
The 1996 Olympic bronze winner said the duo will look out for the next pair. “We have met them before,” he said. “We have beaten them once and they have got the better of us once. It is going to be tough, though, and we have to see how it goes.”