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Huge boost for tennis in cricket-obsessed India

sports Updated: Feb 01, 2009 15:47 IST
AFP
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Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza say their historic Australian Open mixed doubles success on Sunday will give the sport a huge boost back home in cricket-obsessed India.

Bhupathi and Mirza became the first Indian pair to win a Grand Slam mixed doubles title when they crushed Andy Ram of Israel and Frenchwoman Nathalie Dechy 6-3, 6-1.

It rounded off a successful tournament for India after 16-year-old Yuki Bhambri won the boys' junior championship on Saturday, while Bhupathi also made the final of the men's doubles alongside Mark Knowles of the Bahamas.

"You know, it's great, I don't remember the last time when we had so many -- I mean, he (Bhupathi) played the finals, we won today, Yuki won. It's been a great two weeks," Mirza said.

"Let's hope a lot more people play, and tennis grows. It's been growing -- it might take it to another level."

Bhupathi said the fact that Mirza, India's most popular sportswoman, had won added to the impact.

"I know for a fact the whole country's excited now," Bhupathi said.
"It's her first slam -- she's been in the news for the last four years."
While Mirza was celebrating her first success at this level, Bhupathi's victory was his 11th Grand Slam title.

"It's been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for me this weekend," he said.

"I want to thank all the Indians -- we are very lucky that there are so many millions supporting us, not just here but back at home."

The unseeded Bhupathi and Mirza, who were granted a wildcard to the Open, were in great touch all tournament from the moment they beat sixth seeded Czech pair Pavel Vizner and Kveta Peschke in the first round.
They started well against Ram and Dechy, breaking Dechy early in the first set.

Ram and Dechy broke back but the Indians attacked Dechy's serve later in the set and broke again to take the first set in 28 minutes.

It took two minutes less to wrap up the second set and with it the match as they outplayed their opponents with some perfect doubles.
"We wanted to stay out there and make it longer but they were just too good for us," Ram admitted.

Bhupathi said there may be more Indian success to come later this year.

"Well, you know, for us, it's always four slams where we have the opportunity to play mixed," he said.
"Ideally I'd like to continue playing with her, now that we're doing so well."

However, he did hint they may play together before the French Open.
"We might consider an exhibition. I don't know, maybe once the economy turns around across the world, we'll look at it," he said.

"Obviously I think millions and millions of people watched this match today (and) any time Sania plays at home, there's a lot of people watching."