Perhaps it was the newness of their partnership, perhaps it was one of those evenings that sport can throw up when nothing much works, but Leander Paes and Klaasen just couldn’t find any space, or rhythm in the disappointing first set of their doubles final match against Y Lu and J Marray. By the time they tried to rally back in the latter half of the second set, where Leander delighted the packed crowd with glimpses of his best, it was too little too late. Paes and Klaasen eventually went down 3-6 6-7 (4).
They just couldn’t withstand the sustained pressure exerted by Y Lu and J Marray and served up some listless tennis in the first set, though. Lu and Marray went for it from the start, throwing in rapid punches and never letting the pressure ease off. The first serve percentage was high, almost 90% of the first serve points were won, the rallies were short and Leander couldn’t find much space at the net, almost as if he was boxed in to a corner.
On his best days, Leander can create something out of nothing. Those hands, the balance at the net, the startlingly quick reflex didn’t find much space for any creative outlet. The rallies were mercilessly short as Yu and Marray hustled from the start. “They just didn’t give us much. They knew if they just kept the balls in play, we were going to take advantage of that and they just went for the broke,” Leander said later. That they did. Even their second serves were slung out pretty hard. And the set was clinched without much fuss.
The unfamiliarity of playing doubles together also showed. It’s a team that is still learning about each other in match situations. “We still don’t know each other. We are still learning what we do under pressure, what we do when we are down. But the fun thing is it can only get better.”
Things did get better in the second set. The rallies started getting longer, Leander tried his best to pull off something special but the fact that it needed something out of the ordinary, something really special to win a point said much about the dominance of their opponents.
There was this point at 5-5, a relatively long one that showcased the best of Leander. For starters, he seemed out of position but somehow, as he does, the quick hands got him out of trouble. Shoe-lace volleys flickered in rapid succession, lunge volleys followed, and at one point, Leander was rushing back to keep the rally afloat with a really high lob. As the crowd exhaled their delight, and the return came, the point ended abruptly as Klassen pushed his volley wide. The earlier point too had ended softly like that with Leander swatting a relatively easy volley long. Little things like that, on vital moments in the game, just didn’t go their way.
They had their chances in the tie break as well. At 3-3, Leander tried to create a mini-break. Again, thrilling lunges to left, then to the right as he unfurled pick-up volleys but Lu and Marray kept stabbing away the returns before Leander pushed a lunging fore-hand volley wide. “The beauty of sport is that margin is so less. Just one or two shots,” Leander said later. Pity about that first set, though.