Cake, flowers, presents? Not for Mahesh Bhupathi. The 38-year-old celebrated his birthday in grand style, adding a 12 th Grand Slam to his already impressive resume. Partnering Sania Mirza in the mixed doubles final at Roland Garros, they took a little over an hour to lift the winners’ trophy.
The seventh-seeds, playing their third Grand Slam final together, faced a few tense moments in the first set but brutally thrashed Poland’s Klaudia Jans-Ignacik and Santiago Gozalez of Mexico in the second for a 7-6 (3), 6-1 victory on Court Philippe Chatrier.
“We started playing better as the match progressed. More freely,” a satisfied Bhupathi told HT from Paris. “With the format (mixed doubles) of this game, one has to make the right shots. And we made the shots that counted.”
As the Indian contingent celebrated the French Open win over an Indian dinner, partner Sania could only be ecstatic. “What else can one say after winning a Slam! I’m absolutely delighted to have won my second Slam with Mahesh, especially on his birthday,” the 25-year-old quipped.
The Bhupathi-Sania combination had won the 2009 Australian Open and had reached the final of the same event a year before that. “Mahesh and I play together a lot. We combine and complement each other’s game really well,” Sania added.
Could this French fairytale ending be seen as an icing on the cake for the Indian duo? After all, both had lost in their respective doubles first rounds— the event where they were hoping to get points to boost their rankings before the June 11 deadline for the London Olympics.
“Well, you could put it that way. After we lost the doubles (with compatriot Rohan Bopanna), the mixed doubles victory is a great feeling,” contemplated Bhupathi. Having won a Slam after a two-year gap, the new father dedicated this win to his four-month old daughter, Saira.
Interestingly, it was on his birthday fifteen years ago that Bhupathi won his first Grand Slam: the1997 mixed doubles French Open crown with Japan’s Rika Hiraki.
“Tennis is all about wins and losses, how one performs on that particular day. Though I had a disappointing start in Paris (a surprising first round loss with partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the women’s doubles), the finish was great. It was good that both Mahesh and I were able to mentally and physically bounce back,” said Sania.
With the Olympics only 48 days away and Indian tennis matters in a state of uncertainty, the question now is who would finally be able to play in London.
“The goal is of course to get to London. But it’s a waiting game now to see who qualifies,” the birthday boy claimed. To get a direct entry to the Games, one has to be in the top-10. Bhupathi is currently ranked at No. 13.
Unable to defend 1400 points this year after finishing runners-up last year in the women’s doubles, Sania’s London dreams depend solely on a wildcard being granted by the ITF Olympic Committee.
“I hope I get the wildcard because then, we can even hope to bring back a medal,” the newly-crowned French Open champion said.