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From the shadows to the limelight

sports Updated: Sep 20, 2010 01:00 IST
Sukhwant Basra
Sukhwant Basra
Hindustan Times
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“The demons are dead,” Mahesh Bhupathi said. “The only demon out on court today was me,” asserted Rohan Bopanna. The reference was, of course, to Bopanna not delivering when the chips are down.

It’s always tough to stand tall in the company of giants. With Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi for company, Rohan Bopanna has been the shadow man of the Davis Cup team ever since his debut in 2002. A singles win-loss record of 3-8 on hardcourts before this tie just goes to illustrate why, despite that ‘Bofors’ serve and a big all-round game, Bopanna had not been the favourite singles player of different captains. Once Paes moved away from singles, Prakash Amritraj (till the time he was eligible to play for India) and Somdev Devvarman were looked at as the main men.

Bopanna’s potential was evident from his monster serve and those loose-limbed flowing groundstrokes. His game kept growing but his legs just would not. Over the years there have been splashes of brilliance, but inevitably he would only follow it up with the mundane.

Bopanna, though, suddenly exploded during the tie against South Africa last year to swing India into the World Group for the first time in 12 years. It appeared his time had finally come. A drubbing by Russian Mikhail Youzhny six months later dented that belief and India again tumbled into the lottery of the qualifying play-off. Now, riding the crest of his US Open doubles final appearance ‘Bops’ seems to have shaken off the clutches of not coming through when India really needs him. Now, hope springs afresh.

This win has come about because of better bonding in the team. Both Bhupathi and Paes have mellowed. Somdev Devvarman has brought about a fresh take with the focus on tennis alone instead of politicking. Team captain SP Misra has achieved the kind of harmony that allows for the miracle that unfolded in Chennai.