At three-all in the second set,Andreas Beck,ranked 129th in men’s doubles,tapped a heavy Mahesh Bhupathi backhand towards Rohan Bopanna. Crouching at the net with a volleyer’s earnestness and a baseliner’s psyche,Bopanna swatted at the ball,missed it completely and let it trickle between his legs. The crowds in Chennai giggled.
During the previous game,something similar had happened.
Having camped himself to the baseline,like he had for most of his 16-year career,Bhupathi exchanged a few slices on the backhand with Stanislas Wawrinka,before approaching the net with rage. The ball sat up for the angled winner,and Bhupathi executed it with the requisite bottom spin. Yet,the crowd grimaced as it stopped on his side of the tape.
Unlike Wawrinka and Beck,both of whom are predominantly singles players,Bhupathi is a great doubles specialist. Something Bopanna is also turning out to be. It was only expected for them to get past their school boy errors and wrap this Chennai Open quarterfinal (that’s what the doubles second round here is known as) match to rest. Which they eventually did in two tough sets 6-4,7-6.
But against fellow specialists,their flaw,which lies in the very core of their partnership,is bound to be cruelly exposed. Both Bhupathi and Bopanna are anchors,they prefer covering the baseline over wielding their stiff hands at the net.
Without a Leander Paes or Max Mirnyi,two of the quickest volleyers the game has ever seen,Bhupathi would have never risen to No.1 in the world,let alone win the four Grand Slams that he did in men’s doubles.
The same goes with Bopanna. Had Pakistan’s Aisam Qureshi preferred playing at the back of the court,they wouldn’t have partnered each other or risen to No.9 in the world. That’s the way it works in doubles,one brings to the court what the other cannot. As Andre Agassi wrote in his autobiography,’Paes never learnt to hit a tennis ball from the back of the court’,but still won India the singles bronze in Atlanta. Bhupathi and Bopanna are probably praying for the same luck in London this year.
Had Wawrinka,the doubles gold-medallist at the Beijing Olympics with Roger Federer,been listening to Bhupathi’s press conference before their first round game,he would have been appalled. He said: If it was just up to me (and not the AITA),I would choose to play with Rohan at the Olympics. What the AITA decide is anybody’s guess,but they will probably know that no pair who prefer to stand at the baseline at the same time have won the Olympics in recent memory.
For the better part of their first round game against England’s Ken Skupski and Belgium’s Xavier Malisse last night,Bopanna and Bhupathi received serve from the back of the court,together. Such was their lack of confidence in approaching the net that everytime a ball lobbed up in no man’s land,both would scream the word ‘Yours’. It wasn’t a surprise that they lost the first set,held the second on adrenaline,and put together 68 years of wisdom between them to win the super tiebreak in the third.
The same embarrassing echoes bounced about the Nungambakkam on Thursday,not long after Yuki Bhambri,India’s only singles hope in the draw expectedly,lost his second round match to top seed and World No.9 Janko Tipsarevic. Bhambri did everything in his might in the second set to trade his weapons against one of the best players in the world.
After a 6-1 mauling it the first,he was broken just once in the 6-3 second,as both his trump forehand and weak serve was brutally overpowered by the Serbian. But while Bhambri at least played to his real strengths during his loss,Bopanna and Bhupathi didn’t manage that even with a win.
Results: Second Round: Singles: David Goffin (Belgium) def Andreas Beck (Germany) 4-6,6-4,6-2; Nicolas Almagro (2) (Spain) def Steve Darcis (Germany) walkover; Yuichi Sugita (Japan) def Yen-Hsun Lu (Taiwan) 7-6 (5),6-4; Janko Tipsarevic (1) (Serbia) def Yuki Bhambri (India) 6-1,6-3; Doubles: Mahesh Bhupathi/Rohan Bopanna def Stanislas Wawrinka/Andreas Beck 6-4,7-6; Leander Paes/Janko Tipsarevic def 6-3 6-4.