Leander Paes... the one man who is making India proud in Oz

Having made the finals of the men's doubles and mixed doubles at the Australian Open, tennis star Leander is glad to be off to a flier in the all-important year of the London Olympics

At a time when the Indian cricket team is struggling to find its feet Down Under, it's great to have at least one man doing the country proud in Australia.

When leander pae-d us a visit: India tennis ace Leander Paes during
his visit to the MiD DAY office recently. Pic/ Bipin Kokate

In the year's very first Grand Slam, and with two new partners -- Czech Radek Stepanek and Russian Elena Vesnina -- India's tennis ace Leander Paes  has made it to the finals of the Australian Open men's doubles as well as the mixed doubles events at Melbourne Park.

A day after making it to his 24th Grand Slam men's doubles final, fifth seeds Paes and Vesnina rallied brilliantly to beat the Italian pair of Roberta Vinci and Daniele Bracciali 5-7, 6-2, 10-7. Subsequently, the former India Davis Cup captain made it to his 26th Grand Slam mixed doubles final. However, it's not the records and statistics that impress the five-time Olympian, but the significance of the quadrennial Games.
"It's the Olympic year and I've always loved to play for my country. I'm glad that this year has begun so well for me. It's a very crucial year," Paes, India's only Olympic medal winner (1996, Atlanta) in tennis, told MiD DAY over the phone last night.

Paes-Vesnina will face eighth seeds Bethanie Mattek-Sands of USA and Romania's Horia Tecau in the summit clash on Sunday. Mattek-Sands and Tecau beat the sixth seed  Indian pair of Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza 6-3, 6-3 yesterday in a little over an hour (68 mins) at the Rod Laver Arena.

Paes gave full credit to both his partners. "Radek and Elena are fun to play with. They are very quick on their feet and though they may not have a lot of doubles experience, the best part is that they are both willing to learn. In fact, I'm amazed with the amount Radek has picked up in the recent past. Elena is a strong baseline player, and though she may be a little bit weak on the net, she's fast improving," added Paes, who will face top seeds Bob and Mike Bryan of the United States in the men's doubles final today.

"The Bryan brothers are in great form and on top of their game at the moment. But Radek and myself  are playing well together too. However, this final will definitely be our biggest test," said Paes.

As for the prospect of winning two titles at a single Slam -- something he's previously done at the 2009 US Open and 1999 Wimbledon -- Paes said: "I'm not thinking too far ahead. It's the men's doubles final for me right now."

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