Put Leander Paes in the ring, whatever the odds, and he will give you a fight to remember. On Wednesday night, with little more than the support of an enthusiastic 25-year-old and an ever-willing heart, the Indian came close to pulling off a miracle.
It was only a late stumble at the end that saw Paes-Vardhan go down 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-3 to the formidable pair of Michael Llodra and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the second round of the Olympics.
If the scoreline is not impressive enough, consider this: he was playing with Vishnu Vardhan, ranked 240 in doubles, for only the second time; and playing against Llodra, a multiple doubles Grand Slam champion, and Tsonga, the fifth best singles player in the world.
The Indian pair had been hastily glued together for the Games after Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna refused to team up with Paes and had less than three weeks of practice. But on the grass courts of Wimbledon, the Indians competed with the Frenchmen as equals.
"Being the first time that we have played together as a team, we've played a hell of a match again," said Paes, who broke down into tears after the game. As far as Indian tennis goes, this last week has been a little bitter-sweet as far as our team goes. Bitter because I have won the championships here five times and we went down today.
Sweet because I think that we've found a great talent here. I've always known that Vish is talented and on the world stage he is going to perform." The 39-year-old, playing his sixth Olympics, played the role of the elder statesman to perfection on the court, cajoling and protecting the fired-up Vardhan in equal measure.
The long and short of it