The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A better second half for Indian tennis

New Delhi, Dec. 28 (PTI): “If winter comes, can spring be far behind'” Indian tennis in 2002 was very much a similar case — of disappointing setbacks offloaded by promise of a better future.

It was the year in which the all-conquering pair of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi split for the second time and perhaps forever, but also one that witnessed the emergence of a couple of young talents.

The success of Paes and Bhupathi, when they won three Grand Slams and reigned the doubles world for a period, was a saga that had few parallels in Indian sport. Considering this, their rivalry is bound to have its own fallout. It is something that the game in this country could do without.

A sample of what is in store for India when Paes and Bhupathi will no more join hands was seen in September when the team lost 0-5 to Australia in the Davis Cup, for the third consecutive time in the play-off match for the World Group stage.

Not that Paes and Bhupathi would have blown away the mighty Aussies. But in the absence of the confidence and self-belief that their combined presence had breathed through all these years, the team lost without an iota of resistance.

However, the latter half of 2002 was better. And more than the established players it had to do with the bunch of next-generation players. The loss to the Australians aside, tennis gave India a gold and silver and two bronze medals at Busan.

Besides the doubles gold, Bhupathi and Paes won silver and bronze in mixed doubles with Manisha Malhotra and Sania Mirza, respectively. And the bronze came from the men’s second doubles pair Mustafa Ghouse and Vishal Uppal.

The performance of the junior players too kindles hopes. The Indian under-14 boys and girls teams both finished a creditable seventh in the world junior championships.

In the junior Fed Cup, Sania, Ankita Bhambri and Kartiki Bhat did the country proud by finishing fifth. After qualifying through a third-place finish in the zonals at Jakarta, Indian girls lost to Russia and defeated Korea and Germany in the group stage of the finals. In their play-off matches, they beat a strong Argentina and Hungary for the fifth place.

Add to this, the year-end title win by Mirza and three Indian girls finishing among the top four in the Asian junior championship, the picture looks more rosy than it did in the middle of the year.

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