| Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi after winning the men’s doubles final in Busan Friday. (AP/PTI)
Busan, Oct. 11: The gold was there for the taking. Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi made no mistake, playing like the world number ones they once were to whip local pair Lee Hyung-taik and Chung Hee-seok 6-2, 6-3.
The mixed doubles gold, however, slipped from India’s grasp. Bhupathi and Manisha Malhotra gave up a 4-2 advantage in the final set and then a match-point in the 12th game to settle for silver. Chinese Taipei pair Janet Whids Lee and Yen Hsun Lu won the two-and-a-half-hour marathon 4-6, 6-3, 9-7.
With Vishal Uppal-Mustafa Ghouse and Paes-Sania Mirza getting bronze medals for being losing semi-finalists, the tennis tally was a gold, a silver and two bronze. “Not too bad on my debut as India captain I must say,” quipped Anand Amritraj.
Paes and Bhupathi have won Grand Slams and ATP titles galore without being on talking terms in the last three years. This week was no different.
Playing together for the first time since winning the Mallorca Open in May, they let their tennis do the talking. There was minimal interaction outside the court but on it, they knew exactly what to do.
Forget the chest-butting, even an embrace was consciously avoided all week. There were the odd cases of miscommunication and misjudgement, but it didn’t matter in the end.
Having nearly paid the price for taking the lesser-fancied Korean duo of Kwon Oh-hee and Kim Dong-hyun lightly in the semi-final Friday, Paes and Bhupathi were on their toes from the outset. An early break, at Chung’s expense, helped the Indians’ cause no end.
Chung, a new member in the Korean team, was all nerves in the opening minutes. He put a simple forehand volley into the net to give the Indian break-point in the third game. Bhupathi took his chance, sealing the break with a fine backhand overhead volley.
The Korean again dropped serve in game 7. Bhupathi pushed Chung to break-point with another backhand winner. The Korean then came up on serve only to net a low volley. Paes survived a break-point before holding serve to close out the first set.
The Indians kicked off the second set in ideal fashion too. Lee was under siege this time, with Paes doing the damage. A pair of forehand winners made it 15-40 before Lee erred at the net to surrender his opening service game.
With the decibel level rising in the Davis Cup-like ambience, the Koreans had five chances to break back. Paes, however, showed a cool head in wriggling out of danger to keep serve. That was the lone crisis the Indians faced in the 65-minute final.
It was smooth sailing thereafter as the three-time Grand Slam champions broke Lee a second time. The South Korean, ranked No. 79 in singles, had played (and won) a long three-set semi-final against Japanese Takao Suzuki in the morning. The strain showed towards the end of the doubles final. He succumbed on the fourth match-point as a Bhupathi forehand took the net-cord and sailed over the tired Lee’s head.
A double crown eluded Bhupathi as his partner failed at key moments at the net. Serving for a 5-2 lead in the final set, Manisha dropped serve to bring Chinese Taipei right back into the match.
Janet and Yen showed great fighting spirit in staving off match-point on Janet’s serve at 5-6. Janet, ranked in the top 100 in women’s singles, was outstanding at the net and actually made the difference between the two sides.