Veteran Indian tennis star Leander Paes Martina Hingis completed a ‘Career Slam’ in mixed doubles with Swiss partner Martina Hingis with a hard-fought win over compatriot Sania Mirza and Ivan Dodig at Roland Garros on Friday.
The unseeded Indo-Swiss pair eked out a 4-6, 6-4, 10-8 win over the second seeds in the summit clash that lasted one hour and 28 minutes.
42-year-old Paes had won Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open titles in 2015 with Hingis.
Rohan Bopanna told The Indian Express a day earlier that it will be his decision on whom he will partner in the men’s doubles at Rio
Leander Paes created a chance on Sania’s serve in the third game of the second set. He pounced on a volley and hammered the ball hard beyond return. Sania and Dodig saved two break chances but the Croat buried the ball on the deciding point to hand the rivals an early break.
Martina Hingis held her serve in the next to create a 3-1 cushion. In the sixth game, Leander Paes double faulted at 30-15 and followed that with two backhand errors to drop his serve. It was back on serve and released the pressure on Sania and Dodig.
However, Hingis and Paes broke Sania immediately with Paes hitting a volley winner on Sania’s return on the second breakpoint.
Hingis struggled with her first serve but managed to hold for team’s 5-3 lead.
Dodig, who was serving extremely well, suddenly faced a breakpoint in the next game but absorbed the pressure with ease and saved two set points, closing the game with an ace.
It was a trick shot – a drop that fell across the net and defying momentum tottered back towards the court-divider, just one from among Leander Paes’ glorious bag of tricks.
You could cling onto that lingering wizardry for long after it played out. It helped him level games at 1-1 in the mid set after he’d lost the opener of the French Open mixed doubles final with Martina Hingis. Across the net was Sania Mirza.
But importantly, across the net was also Ivan Dodig, a Bosnia-born Croat who earlier in the day had lost the men’s doubles semifinal – a loss that would’ve hurt Paes more than his win here would have made him happy.
Rohan Bopanna was nowhere on the court, but his words would have reverberated in the chilled air at the Philippe-Chatrier.
The 36-year-old had told the Indian Express a day earlier that it will be his decision on whom he will partner in the men’s doubles at the Rio Olympics should he make the top 10.
“If I don’t make it (to the top 10), then I’ll have to pair up with Leander (Paes). But if I’m in the top 10, then I can pick my partner.”
To be sure, Leander Paes Martina Hingis completed a career Grand Slam. But it was Dodig’s loss earlier in the day that fatefully scrambled the all-important rankings and pushed Bopanna into the top 10.
This last-gasp entry into the bracket gives Bopanna the right to choose his men’s doubles partner at Rio. And should he opt to not pick Leander Paes Martina Hingis, who languishes around No. 50, this furious Friday could spell the end of his dream to go to a record seventh Olympics to Rio.
It’s ironical that it should happen on a day when Paes played a gutsy, intense final to complete his Slam set in mixed doubles – the very category that is the bone of contention, given the higher chances at winning a medal at the Games.
But should Bopanna pick a partner other than Leander Paes, the spry old man will not be eligible to travel to Rio, let alone be on-site to take a shot at the mixed doubles.
That Sania was responding with her crisp, curt angled strokes means that two of India’s finest doubles players were on show this finals Friday, but the pairing that might make the cut – Sania gets to choose – might include the tall Bopanna, who exited Roland Garros earlier.
The star-cast on this wintery summer day in Paris was interesting, and hardly frigid. Dodig, the quick-footed Croat was on the court alongside Sania. Hingis – Mirza’s regular partner, one half of the now famous Santina – was opposite her, and building a case for Leander with their classy rapport. Mirza-Dodig had looked like ending this badly for Paes – if a Slam final can be called bad indeed – by winning over 95 percent on their first serve in the opening set.
But Paes would turn on his aggressive bulldozing by charging the net and Hingis was as steady as ever. Midway through the second, after Leander Paes Martina Hingis had won an early break both pairings traded breaks, but the 42-year-old was a possessed soul not letting go thereafter.
French Open titles just prior to the Olympics tend to be royally ignored in India though. Four years ago, Mirza had won on clay at Paris with Mahesh Bhupathi, but was compelled to play with Paes at London Games two months later.
India’s tennis doubles royalty is known for its torrid past and inter-personal relations, and Paes’ top glory in the mixed event might still not be enough for him to push his case for Rio.
In a strange twist of fate, and with Mirza watching from the other end, the winner this time too – despite his persistent claims at his mixed record to be considered – might well end up not heading to Rio.
But his fate had left his hands – those famous magical hands – soon after defending champions Dodig and Marcelo Melo lost their semifinals, assuring Bopanna of his right to decide on Paes’s future.
The rankings taken into consideration will be the ones published on June 6, a day after the finals at Roland Garros. Losing out to the pair of Marc Lopez and Feliciano Lopez 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 means that Bopanna will leapfrog past Dodig and 10th placed Brazilian Bruno Soares to move into the top 10 for the first time since March.
The result ensures the Indian, on 4980 ranking points will cover the 575 points he currently trails Dodig by. Other than Paes, Bopanna’s options range from Purav Raja (ranked 102), Saketh Myneni (128), and India’s top singles player Yuki Bhambri, who is ranked 141 in singles.
Dramatic days are expected to follow in Indian tennis, though Bopanna – who has not gone past the quarters in mixed doubles in any Slam – could do the smart thing of erasing the past from his memory and head to Rio in the company of Leander Paes , and give himself the best chance to win a medal.
About Leander Paes Martina Hingis
He has won eight doubles and ten mixed doubles Grand Slam titles, and is the oldest man to have won a Grand Slam title. He holds a career Grand Slam in men’s doubles and mixed doubles, and achieved the rare men’s doubles/mixed doubles double at the 1999 Wimbledon tournament. His mixed doubles Wimbledon title in 2010 made him the second man (after Rod Laver) to win Wimbledon titles in three decades.
One of the most successful professional Indian tennis players, he has received the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, India’s highest sporting honour, in 1996–97; the Arjuna Award in 1990; the Padma Shri award in 2001 and its 3rd Highest Civilian Award the Padma Bhushan in January 2014 for his outstanding contribution to tennis in India.