Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi had spent a good part of the last decade playing on the opposite sides on the court. Their ability to create magic on the court, however, is taken for granted, even by the players to a certain extent.
On Monday night, the Lee-Hesh comeback show at the Chennai Open threatened to come to a quick and painful end, as they stared at a 1-4 deficit in the first set against Canada's Frank Dancevic and 2008 doubles gold medallist Stanislas Wawrinka. Bhupathi, who had arrived in Chennai late on Sunday evening, was walking cold on the court. He lost serve in his first service game, and Wawrinka-Dancevic invariably went for him.
It was one such crack at Bhupathi that sparked the 'Indian Express' into action. Having already piqued the Indians with a long argument with the chair umpire over a line challenge, Wawrinka slammed a forehand towards Bhupathi, who had to duck to get out of the way.
Lee-Hesh were back, eyes flashing, them against the rest. Though Dancevic's serve and Wawrinka's returns were still hurting, Paes-Bhupathi fought on. Their opponents went for the lobs; the Indians' legs were too slow to return all of them. But this was a battle they wouldn't lose.
"Guys make a mistake when they target my partner," Paes later said.
Paes-Bhupathi were gearing into action. The stretch returns were making it, the touch improved at the net, Bhupathi was replying well to everything Wawrinka-Dancevic threw at him. They were still staring down three match-points at 3-6 in the second-set tie-break, when Dancevic's serve, which had been spot on till then, decided to desert. He put in two second serves, and the Indians made the most of it.
"When they went 6-6 in that tie-break I knew the match was over," said Peter Lundgren, Wawrinka's coach. "Frank got a little nervous and you knew the Indians' confidence was up."
Dancevic hit a forehand volley into the net as Paes-Bhupathi took the tie-break 10-8, and then zipped through the match tie-break. "Close match like this will definitely give us confidence," Bhupathi said. "One thing we never do is give up. It's good to see that after all these years we can still recreate magic on the court." It was back again, that M-word.