Leander Paes and Sania Mirza's twin success at the final Grand Slam of the year has ensured Indian tennis has had arguably its best year in the past two decades, writes Gaurav Natekar
While most parts of India are tragically reeling with drought, it's been raining trophies for Indian tennis on the world stage. Leander Paes and Sania Mirza's twin success at the final Grand Slam of the year has ensured Indian tennis has had arguably its best year in the past two decades (barring that incredible run in 1999 when Leander and Mahesh reached the finals of all four Grand Slams, winning two of them).
And lest we forget, Sumit Nagal's win in the junior boys doubles at Wimbledon, Rohan Bopanna's continued good form and top 10 ranking in doubles and the heartening performance so far this year of the Indian Davis Cup team have also added a lot of cheer to Indian tennis lovers.\
Also Read: I play for myself, my country and family: Sania Mirza
I'm home: Sania Mirza arrives at Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad after winning US Open women's doubles title. Pic/PTI
But the year clearly belongs to Leander and Sania. While Sania went through a lean patch and was promptly written off by most as is the case in India, she has worked her way back to the number one ranking in women's doubles by the age old formula that everyone knows, but very few follow — sheer hard work and focus.
With more and more singles players also playing doubles (albeit at select tournaments), the doubles specialists including Sania have realised that fitness, recovery, hydration, diet, rest etc are not just the prerogative of the singles players. Sania has been relatively injury-free for a while now and looks a lot more assured and confident while moving on the court. She has added a few small, but crucial elements in her game that have given her more variety especially from the back of the court and that has made it slightly more unpredictable for her opponents to read her game.
In comparison, and by his own high standards, Leander has had a very average year in men's doubles. Inspite of changing multiple partners, he just could not find the rhythm and 'connection' with them. Martina Hingis has provided the perfect foil for him with her tremendous array of strokes and her experience of competing at the highest level. Leander's hand-eye coordination, speed and reflexes at the net are still incredible and even though he is definitely a couple of steps slower, his superb volleying skills and anticipation make it seem otherwise.
The timing of the success and good form for Sania and Leander could not have come at a better time given that the Olympics is exactly one year away. In all probability, it would be the last Olympics for both of them and nothing would top the icing on the cake for both their careers than having an Olympic medal in their cabinet. Leander already has one medal from Atlanta and for Sania, it's one of the few medals that she does not have.
Both of them have played and won multiple titles and accolades playing together for India and if they continue their form and stay injury-free, they could have a serious shot at a medal in Rio. Federer-Hingis vs Paes-Mirza at Rio could be a strong possibility and it's one of the few mixed doubles matches that I would actually pay to watch.
While there is a lot to cheer about, there is also a lot of work that needs to be done by all the stakeholders in Indian tennis. While Yuki Bhambri and Somdev Devvarman continue to carry the burden in singles, there is absolutely no bench strength and should one of them get injured, it leaves a huge chasm to cover especially in team events like Davis Cup, Asian Games etc. This gap needs to be addressed by having a vibrant grassroots and schools level initiative to encourage more kids to play tennis. But for now, let's sit back and savour the acche din that Indian tennis has had in 2015!
Tennis stalwart Gaurav Natekar was a double gold medalist at the 1994 Asian Games and Arjuna awardee