Asian Games 2018: Doubles gold shows it’s time to look beyond Leander Paes
Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan notched up their maiden men’s doubles gold medal at the Asian Games tennis competition, dominating the final clash at Asian Games 2018asian games 2018 Updated: Aug 25, 2018 08:51 IST
When Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan stood on the podium with gold medals at the JSC Stadium in Palembang, there was both joy and relief in the Indian tennis contingent after the duo had brushed aside Kazakhstan’s Aleksandr Bublik and Denis Yevseyev 6-3, 6-4 in the final to live up to the expectations.
Even before India could start the tennis competition, the squad was hit by the withdrawal of Leander Paes who was unhappy that the team had only two doubles specialists, meaning he would have to pair up with a singles player.
Being India’s top two doubles players in ATP rankings, Bopanna and Divij wanted to play together and made their preference clear to the selectors. Bopanna, who has been recommended by the All Inidia Tennis Association (AITA) for the Arjuna Award, is ranked 36 and Divij is ranked 38. Paes, on the other hand, had fallen to 80 in the world rankings.
On–court chemistry is a key component of doubles competition. Bopanna and Divij did get the top billing but the fact that they had not played together too often made their job tougher. Left-handed Divij, a late bloomer, has been going through the best patch of his career, having reached the quarter-final of Wimbledon (with Artem Sitak) and third round at Australian Open (with Rajeev Ram) this year.
At 38, Bopanna brings years of experience and reached the quarter-finals of the French Open (with Edouard Roger-Vasselin). Bopanna can still rattle the best in business with his booming service while Divij’s reflexes at the net proved to be an ideal combination.
Fascinating to watch however, was the way they gelled so quickly. So much so that when the going got tough in the semi-final against Japan’s Sho Shimabukuro and Kaito Uesugi, the pair switched their normal sides of courts to confuse the opponents. They won 6-4, 3-6, 10-8 after winning the Super Tie Break.
They however preserved their best for the final where the Indians were in command right from the word go. They stayed aggressive, meant business, and delivered.
In recent years, India have struggled to find a solid combination in Davis Cup. Bopanna and Paes had a brilliant victory against China in the Davis Cup. It spurred the team to rally to a memorable comeback victory away from home in April. But such victories have come few and far between and it is no secret that the two don’t share the best equation.
In three weeks’ time, when India face Serbia in a World Group playoff, expect Bopanna and Divij — who has mostly been in reserves for some time now — to drive India’s challenge in doubles. While Tokyo Olympics is still far, the AITA would do well to keep the combinations in mind. The gold from Palembang might just mark a new beginning for Indian tennis, at least in doubles.
First Published: Aug 25, 2018 08:51 IST