India had a relatively fruitful day on the tennis courts at the prestigious Wimbledon with the warring duo of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi advancing to the second round of the men’s doubles event of the Olympic Games with their respective partners.
While Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna had to sweat it out before suppressing the challenge of Max Mirnyi and Alexander Bury of Belarus 7-6 (4) 6-7 (4) 8-6,Paes and his unheralded partner Vishnu Vardhan got the better of Jean Julien Rojer and Robin Haase of The Netherlands 7-6 (1) 4-6 6-2 here yesterday.
Paes and Vardhan,ranked 208 in the world,struggled to win the first set and lost their rhythm to concede the second set.
But they bounced back brilliantly in decider to clinch the issue and keep their hopes alive in the competition.
Bhupathi and Bopanna,whose insistence to play together sparked off a selection row in the build-up to the Olympics,staved off a spirited challenge from their Belarus opponents to script a gruelling three-set win.
Bhupathi and Bopanna held their nerve to edge out Mirnyi and Bury in their opening tussle which lasted for two hours and 26 minutes.
Both the teams went neck-and-neck till the very end before the Indian pair pulled off a thrilling win to keep their medals hope alive in the Games.
In the tense third set,Bopanna and Bhupathi put their rivals under pressure with an attacking brand of tennis.
The Indian pair will take on Richard Gasquet and Julien Benneteau of France in the second round.
Speaking after the match,Bopanna said it was a tough opening encounter but he and his partner were not nervous in the tense dying stages of the contest although there were a few controversial line calls.
“With this format,with these two guys serving so big it’s going to come down to one or two points at the end. Any call like that at such a big time it’s frustrating when you are playing. There was one call right there that was terrible,” Bopanna said.
“I think the referee is in a tight situation,too,he is feeling the pressure,too,but if the chair umpire doesn’t come into play in the big situations it’s going to be tough for us to do anything out there.”
On their opposition,he said: “The guys are 6ft 5 inches. They are not easy to break,especially on grass. In the third set there is no tie-break,so you know you have to break. We got lucky with that break point in the third set and we came through.
“We were playing at a high level,I don’t think we were nervous at all. We played a really tough team,” he said.
Bopanna also said that the selection row ahead of the Games had no bearing on their performance.
“The baggage is forgotten and gone,long gone. We got here well prepared so for us it’s just one match at a time and take it from there,” he said.
“We are happy that we got a lot of practice here for the last week and now to play this tough match and take a win is just going to take our confidence higher,” Bopanna added.
Bhupathi said he and Bopanna showed great character after some dubious line calls. “We didn’t want to be in that situation,we should have closed it in two sets. You’ve got to give us some credit,we fought after that bad call,three break points in that game on my serve,it was rough,” Bhupathi said.
“We are just happy with the win.”
In the men’s singles competition,India’s Vishnu Vardhan,who was given a wild card at the eleventh hour,went down tamely to another wild card Blaz kavcic of Slovakia in the opening round.
Vishnu made a valiant effort to counter Kavcic but in vain as his rival pulled off a convincing 6-3 6-2 win in a contest which lasted for one hour and 12 minutes.
“It’s a great experience for me. I have never played at Wimbledon. I was not a good enough junior to play on these courts. I was very lucky to play the singles here. I worked really hard in the match but I could not win,” he said.
“Not many Indians have played singles in the Olympics and I am really happy to be one of them,” Vishnu said after the match.
On how grateful he is to doubles partner Leander Paes for helping him get into the singles draw as an alternate,he said: “Leander is the person I should thank. First of all I am here because of him.
“Secondly,the day before yesterday he called me up late evening and said there is a spot in the singles draw and you need to go and sign up first thing in the morning. I was not aware of that. I am really happy to get more matches on these courts so I am more prepared for the doubles,” he added.