New York: Mahesh Bhupathi’s US Open campaign, and his illustrious Grand Slam career, came to an end after early losses in the men’s doubles and mixed doubles. He is 39. His one-time doubles partner Leander Paes is 40. But unlike Mahesh, Leander is yet to bid adieu to the court. On the contrary, he seems to be getting younger with every passing year.
Still considered one of the fittest players in the circuit, Leander, partnering Czech Radek Stepanek, has advanced to the men’s doubles semi-finals, at the Flushing Meadows, after a hard-fought win in the last-eight stage.
The fourth-seeded Indo-Czech pair defeated the fifth seeded combination of Pakistan’s Aisam-ul Haq Qureshi and Dutchman Jean-Julien Rojer 6-1, 6-7 (3), 6-4 in a match which lasted more than two-and-a-half hours.
Up next is a tough test for Leander and Stepanek as they would now face the top-seeded American pair of Mike and Bob Bryan. The Bryan brothers got the better of the 12th-seeded British pair of Colin Fleming and Jonathan Marray 7-6 (7), 6-4 in their quarter final match.
In women’s doubles, 10th seed Sania Mirza and her Chinese partner Zheng Jie entered the semis, upsetting the fourth-seeded Chinese Taipei and Chinese duo of Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai 6-4, 7-6 (5).
Leander and Stepanek started off well and broke their rivals twice, while holding their own serve, to clinch the opening set in just 33 minutes. But they were stretched quite a bit in the remaining two sets which took almost an hour each to conclude.
In the second set, neither of the two teams conceded a single break point. Even though Qureshi and Rojer committed three double faults, they fought hard enough to equalise and keep themselves in the match.
The third set was also closely-contested, but Leander-Stepanek converted an all-important break point while Qureshi and Rojer frittered away the only one they got as the Indo-Czech pair sealed the issue.
Leander and Stepanek had defeated the pair of Jarko Nieminen-Dimitri Tursunov in the fourth round.
Having won seven doubles and six mixed doubles Grand Slam titles, and finishing as runner up in numerous other Grand Slam finals, there’s nothing for left for Leander to prove. However, he has been and will be one of India’s greatest sportspersons ever. (Agencies)