Somdev Devvarman and Sanam Singh's on-court chemistry has become the talking point at the Asian Games.
Much before their doubles final against China's Li Zhe and Gong Maoxin, talks in the press box — and maybe among the support staff accompanying the tennis contingent — was whether the two were ready to step into the shoes of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi.
They are the best of friends. And while Somdev has passed out of University of Virginia in the United States, Sanam is just six months away from graduating from the same university. They also have identical dreams, of donning India colours and beating the best in the world, like Paes and Bhupathi did when they were a team.
On Monday at the Aoti Tennis Centre, that synergy was very much in evidence as the India duo outthought their Chinese rivals 6-3, 6-7 (4), 10-8 in the summit clash to give India their sixth gold medal at the Games. An overcast sky and more than 8,000 people rooting for the home team did not deter the duo from keeping the tradition of winning medals in tennis at the Games alive. Of course there were hiccups, with the Indians surrendering the initiative in the second set after making an easy beginning in the first.
But with the 22-year-old Sanam playing well above expectation and his partner providing stability, it was just a matter of time before the relatively inexperienced, though gritty, opponents were defeated in the super-tiebreaker 10-8.
With skies looking ominous and cold winds blowing, the Indian pair's performance also dipped. Somdev's serve was broken in the very first game of the second set and then China held on to theirs to make it 2-0. But all along Sanam was serving hard, even managing an ace here and there, but his best was near the net, where he was unbeatable.
Down 2-0, the Indian pair staged a recovery and were even leading at 5-4, when both teams retained serve and the set went into a tie-break. And though India took a 2-0 lead, it finally lost the set 7-4, with Somdev also committing a double-fault at 3-5.
The super tie-break too was a slightly tense affair but with India taking a 4-1 lead, the Chinese were doing all the catching up. Finally, when Somdev served for the match, Li hit it long. Gold pocketed, it was time for niceties and mutual admiration. "It was an unbelievable win.
Coming out and playing with a good friend has doubled my joy. The match was tough with the Chinese attacking all the time," said Somdev.
"Our opponents were charged up with more than 8,000 people rooting for them. But we too went in with a lot of energy and didn't let the crowd get the better of us.
"All credit to Somdev for his super-tiebreaker show," said Sanam.
On whether India was seeing the birth of a new doubles team, Somdev said, "Sanam still has 6-8 months in college. We both are very good friends. So may be yes, provided he gets his ranking up and we can travel together. I have no problems."
Coach Nandan Bal too was all praise for Somdev, who had come through a singles semifinal against Japan's Tatsuma Ito 2-6, 6-0, 6-3 an hour-and-a-half before the doubles. "A one-and-a-half-hour break is a double-edged sword. You cannot relax because your muscles will go old and you cannot exert as you are already tired."
Thankfully, Somdev had the right mix on Monday.