A year that brought more tears than cheers

The year ends on a bitter note for Indian tennis as Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, regarded as the 'Indian Express' during their heydays, part ways acrimoniously.

india Updated: Dec 29, 2006 17:57 IST

The public spat between India's two tennis stalwarts -- Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi -- and their heart-breaking decision not to play together for the country again overshadowed the few success stories that Indian tennis witnessed in the year gone by.

The year ended on a bitter note for Indian tennis as Paes and Bhupathi, regarded as the 'Indian Express' during their heydays, parted ways acrimoniously despite proving yet again that together they could do miracles.

The two estranged friends, whose relationship had run into rough weather for the last few years, launched a bitter tirade against each other in October which sadly became a major issue in a year which saw Sania Mirza also failing to make much of an impression on the circuit.

Quite ironically, a fresh war of words came immediately after the champion duo claimed the gold medal in the Doha Asian Games doubles event. It virtually served as the knockout punch, ending a relationship that had turned sour beyond redemption.

The sad episode gave a little chance to Indian team to celebrate their dominance at the Asian level after winning two gold and two silver medals.

India's Davis Cup coach Nandan Bal attributed the tragic episode to miscommunication.

"It was on the cards for a long time but it seems the miscommunication did it finally. And yes it is a big loss for Indian tennis. The broken partnership has left a big gap to fill. Though there are new players coming up but it will take a long time to nurture them to the class and calibre of Mahesh and Paes," Bal said.

He said he was not even consulted before finalising the team for Asian Games. He was asked to team up with Shikha Uberoi while he was keen to share the tennis court with Sania.

However, the AITA persuaded the two players to team up for the Doha Games but the differences cropped up again when Bhupathi was subjected to trials and asked to prove his fitness before finalising the doubles pair. It only added fuel to the fire.

On the courts, the success achieved by Indian tennis players this year came in bits and pieces. If Bhupathi began the year by winning a mixed doubles title at the Australian Open, Leander had to wait till last Grand Slam of the year to add to his list of Grand Slam titles.

The pair of Bhupathi and Martina Hingis beat Elena Likhovtseva and Daniel Nestor to claim the first Grand Slam Mixed doubles title of the year. The Indo-Czech duo of Leander and Martin Damn beat Jonas Bjorkman and Max Mirnyi to become US Open Men's doubles winners. The duo also ended up runners up earlier at the Australian Open.

Holding the flag in women's event for India, Sania Mirza, the sole singles campaigner, performed better in doubles when the entire nation pinned hopes on her singles matches.

She could not go beyond the second round at the Australian and the US Open and her challenge ended in the first round at the Wimbledon and at the Rolland Garros.

Sania won two doubles titles and was runner-up at three other WTA tournaments partnering different players. However in singles, the highest jump was semi-final appearance at Sunfeast Open.

The sweet revenge against 'Swiss Miss' and world number eight Martina Hingis at Korea Open was the only relishing moment for her fans in the year, marked by her inconsistent performance.

She lost twice to Hingis this year, first in Dubai Open and then in Sunfeast Open, before registering the famous win at Korea Open.

The semifinal win against Na Li of China at Asian Games once again proved that on her day she could beat better players than her.

But consistency alone yields good results. Overall poor show in singles led to her ranking sliding down to 66th at the end of the year.

Nandal Bal said this is not surprising.

"Not many players have a good second year on the circuit. When new players enter the circuit for the second time, experienced players have a better idea of opponent's game. They attack on weak points and that is what happened with Sania. But she picked up in the end and Doha's performance was an example," Bal said.

In between, the team won the inaugural Asian Hopman Cup, and drew a four-test series with Pakistan. While the Hopman Cup victory earned a wildcard into Hopman Cup to be held in Perth, the test series with Pakistan provided a platform for youngsters to get exposure.

Karan Rastogi and Vivek Shokeen beat Aisam Qureshi and Aqeel Khan respectively in the Indo-Pak test series to make their presence felt.

Though the event was termed as a Confidence Building Measure (CBM) like Indo-Pak cricket series, it could not inspire crowds into stadiums.

The season ahead is full of challenges for Sania, Paes and Mahesh. But they have different reasons to prove themselves again.

Now what India needs more than anything else is that the new generation players be given better training if somebody is to fit into the shoes of Paes and Bhupathi.

First Published: Dec 29, 2006 17:57 IST