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Wimbledon: Indian expectations rest on doubles

sports Updated: Jun 21, 2009 20:03 IST

IANS
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The singles have always seemed to be a low priority for Indian players in tennis. So even though the famous Wimbledon, beginning Monday, spreads out the favoured Indian surface in grass, it is the doubles on which the country will be pinning its hopes.

With none of the men making it to the main draw, expectations will ride high on Sania Mirza. The 22-year-old Hyderabadi will open against German Anna-lena Groenefeld against whom she leads 2-0 head-to-head.

Leander Paes, fresh from his title victory with Czech partner Lukas Dlouhy at the French Open, would take a shot at his 10th Grand Slam title. Paes and Dlouhy are in exemplary form, having won their first title at Roland Garros after coming together a year back.

However, one can only call it India's misfortune that Somdev Devvarman, making his Wimbledon debut with South African Kevin Anderson in the doubles, has been drawn to play fourth-seeded pair of Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles in the first round.

The Wimbledon doubles title has come to India only once when Paes and Bhupathi won it together in 1999. Neither has been able to clinch the title since breaking up. Bhupathi, though, won it twice (2002, 2005) in the mixed doubles category.

In the women's singles, Sania has shown good form in the run-up to Wimbledon, reaching the semi-finals in both singles and doubles at the grasscourt tournament at Birmingham, the Aegon Classic.

However, a strain on her right thigh forced her to pull out from the singles event mid-way at the successive week's tournament at Eastbourne. She played in the doubles with her Chinese Taipei partner Chia-Jung Chuang but crashed out in the first round.

The year has fared decently for Sania, becoming the first Indian woman ever to win a Grand Slam in the Australian Open mixed doubles with compatriot Bhupathi, after returning from a chronic wrist injury in January.

The Indian carried her form in Pattaya Open in February, where she reached her first final in two years. Even though her singles performance dipped thereafter, Sania with Chuang has been consistent in her doubles performance, with the pair winning their first title together in their second tournament at Florida.

Sania's quarterfinal appearance in the doubles here last year, only strengthens her case this time around. She, however, has never crossed the second round of Wimbledon in the singles event.

India has another Wimbedon debutant in Prakash Amritraj. Prakash, who narrowly missed a place in the singles main draw by falling in the last hurdle of qualifiers, is partnering Pakistan's Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi. Aisam, once a partner of injured Rohan Bopanna, is playing in his fourth Wimbledon doubles.

Prakash and Aisam will play the 16th-seeded Stephen Huss of Australia and Britain's Ross Hutchins.