| Mahesh Bhupathi and Martina Hingis with the trophy at Melbourne on Sunday. (AFP) See Sport
Calcutta, Jan. 29: On a morning when Irfan Pathan rocked Karachi with an unprecedented first-over Test match hattrick, Mahesh Bhupathi completed a rare three-in-a-row feat as well in Melbourne.
Bhupathi’s feat was achieved in the least competitive of the Grand Slam events, the mixed doubles, but in a global sport like tennis, no success is easy. More so Bhupathi’s as his titles have been won with different partners.
If his ally in the conquest of 2005 Wimbledon was stylish Frenchwoman Mary Pierce, Bhupathi’s comrade-in-arms at the US Open last September was Slovak glam girl Daniela Hantuchova.
And, now, at the Australian Open, it was Swiss Martina Hingis’s turn to lend the Indian a helping hand.
It was Bhupathi’s 10th Grand Slam doubles crown, strengthening his “lead” over Leander Paes by three. Six of those 10 triumphs have come in the mixed event and, quite remarkably, each with a different partner.
“It’s a very exciting feeling' but if you ask me how I manage to do it, it’s tough to explain,” Bhupathi told The Telegraph after Sunday’s win over the Russian-Canadian combine of Elena Likhovtseva and Daniel Nestor. Likhovtseva was one of Bhupathi’s winning partners (at 2002 Wimbledon).
Pressed for an explanation of his magical chemistry with lady partners ranging from Ai Sugiyama (the Japanese girl with whom he won his first Slam at the 1997 French Open) to Hingis, Bhupathi said: “All of them have been quality players and it’s my good fortune that I have gelled well with all of them on court.”
Bhupathi refused to rate his 10 Grand Slam wins, but Sunday’s was special in the sense that he had been eager to play with Hingis for a very long time.
“I wanted to play with her some years ago, she had also expressed interest, but somehow it didn’t work out. When I heard she was making a comeback, I checked with her if she was willing to play and she said okay,” Bhupathi explained.
His partnership with Hingis will continue at the next major, the French Open in May-June, and possibly Wimbledon, too.
Ten Grand Slam titles had been on his mind for the last four-five years. Now that he has fulfilled that ambition, will he set a fresh goal for himself'
“I am delighted to have reached No. 10. Any more titles after this will come as a bonus,” Bhupathi said.
In the increasingly competitive field of men’s doubles, there can be no guarantee of Bhupathi adding to his four successes. But when it comes to mixed doubles, the Indian is in a league of his own.
Few will bet against Bhupathi completing a dozen Slam trophies before he hangs up his tennis kit in two-three years' time.