|Mahesh Bhupathi in the city on Monday
Calcutta: All the prayers and wishes of the city’s tennis lovers came to naught. Injury forced Sania Mirza to withdraw from the Sunfeast Open on Monday. In a statement, she announced her inability to participate and wished the Indian players the best for the meet.
But the day had begun very differently. It had startedwith tennis, but with a difference. It was tennis, unique in its setting, perfect in ambience and that much more enjoyable because of the relaxed and informal atmosphere.
Take a cloudy morning scene on the river Hooghly, with the wind blowing gently and the water lapping against the riverbank. Take a barge-turned-tennis court in the middle of the river. Add to it the two chief participants in this river adventure — Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania.
The Indian tennis icon arrived in the city late on Sunday. Tennis lovers were choking on their curiosity about her participation. But the young lady looked cool in a yellow jacket and tights, completely at ease with herself.
Bhupathi and his US Open mixed doubles partner played a three-game duel on the 114 feet by 37 feet structure placed strategically between the Howrah Bridge and Vidyasagar Setu, providing a breathtaking view. The 20-year-old defeated Bhupathi 2-1, amid cheers from the onlookers in nearby jetties.
In a brief interaction with the media on the barge, Bhupathi spoke about how much the Sunfeast Open has evolved in the last three years, emphasising that Indian tennis aspirants have learnt much from the meet.
“The meet has come a considerable way,” said Bhupathi. “We had players like Anastasia Myskina and Martina Hingis for the earlier editions. This year we have Wimbledon runner-up Marion Bartoli and Daniela Hantuchova. We are growing every year and growing well too,” Bhupathi said.
And what has been his feedback from the women who has participated here' “The girls have loved playing in Calcutta,” said Bhupathi. “The hospitality has been fabulous. Being an indoor tournament, it has been unaffected by the weather. Of course, the timing is not so ideal, coming so soon after the US Open.”
As questions veered, inevitably, around fitness and Sania, a very pragmatic Bhupathi said: “As a player injuries are a part and parcel of the game and all of us have to take them in stride. Injuries are sheer bad luck that all sportspersons have to learn to live with.”
About the experience of playing on a floating barge, Bhupathi said: “The setting was fantastic and am sure all of us had great fun. This was definitely an experience of a lifetime.”
Sometime back Roger Federer had played Andre Agassi on a helipad of Dubai’s 321m high Burj Al Arab hotel for its promotion.