Indian Tennis made mild news on court at the start of the season but by the time the season ended in Doha, there was plenty off it, with the ugly Leander-Mahesh spat once again coming out in the open. The ageing superstars fought in full view of fans and media at the Asian Games, but in terms of sheer achievement, Leander once again stole the show.
At 33, and now a proud father, you would have thought tennis would take a backseat in his priority list.
But the way Leander scripted India’s ‘dramatic’ win against Pakistan in the Davis Cup tie in Mumbai, just days after his daughter was born was a testimony to his fighting skills. He has complained there is no one to take over singles duty from him, which is why he had to play the fifth rubber against Aqeel Khan at the CCI.
Davis Cup apart, as a professional who earns his bread and butter from doubles, Leander shone in the Grand Slams, with the men’s doubles title at the US Open in company of Martin Damm being the icing on the cake. Making it to the season-ending doubles final was also a huge high in a year when he also went on to win the title with Mahesh Bhupathi at Doha and the mixed doubles gold with Sania Mirza.
In terms of results, Mahesh, who suddenly had to split with Wesley Moody had an average year, though there was hype when he won the mixed doubles with Martina Hingis at the Australian Open. Mahesh has virtually played his last match for India, but in 2006, he also made news as an entrepreneur.
The much-touted second string comprising Rohan Bopanna, Harsh Mankad, Prakash Amritraj, Karan Rastogi and company did not set the ATP computer on fire with their rankings. At best, they won matches here and there, but nothing good enough to challenge Leander as the number one performer in 2006.
Sania Mirza, the brightest face of Indian tennis, came to terms with realities of the WTA Tour in singles. Her ranking fell, though she made her presence felt in doubles and the Fed Cup away ties.
For a nation which had got used to seeing her beat the top pros with aplomb, she had to do a lot of soul-searching in 2006. By the time the year ended, the smile was back on Sania’s face as she did India proud in Rohan Bopanna's company at the Asian Hopman Cup in Hyderabad. In Doha, she was on fire, competing in the team event, singles, doubles and mixed doubles.
Sania's fitness under the new trainer is a revelation. And it is not just the whiplash forehand which hurts, but also the newly designed backhand.
Ask Na Li, who she dismantled in the singles semifinals at Doha, if you have any doubts.
INDIA & THE WORLD Davis Cup:
Asia-Oceania Round I:
Korea bt India 4-1 Playoff: India bt Pakistan 3-2 Medals at Asian Games: Women’s singles: Sania Mirza (Silver) Women’s team event: Silver Men’s doubles: Paes/Bhupathi (Gold) Mixed doubles: Leander/Sania (Gold) Grand Slams: Australian Open: Mahesh/Martina Hingis won mixed doubles title US Open: Leander Paes/Martin Damm won men's doubles title