Partnering Martina is an honour
A lot of people have been asking me how and why I chose to team up Martina Navratilova in mixed doubles, knowing fully well that I could have found a much more young and aggressive partner.
The year gone by was an average one for me as my men's doubles results were not as good as they should have been. I was at Flushing Meadows last summer at the US Open where I was looking for a mixed doubles partner. And all of a sudden I was stopped by a very familiar face asking me if I was ready to play with her. Believe me, it did not take me more than a wink to decide I was going to play with Martina, an idol I had grown up watching on television. For me, Martina was a role model. I had seen several matches of hers and the way she won title after title, there was style and substance in what she did.
It was an honour for me when the legend herself asked if I could be her partner. The first time we stepped on court at the US Open, it was an emotional moment for me. It was the same court where I had lost the mixed doubles final in 2001 to Todd Woodbridge and Rennae Stubbs. When we won the first match, the crowd response was unbelievable. The standing ovation, which Martina got, was something I had never imagined, showing how much she is respected even today.
There has been a lot of talk on why is it that I continue to play with her even in this season. Honestly, Martina may be 46, but her desire to win matches, her ability to read the game and analyse opponents and keep cool have been features which impress me the most.
Sure enough, when we won the Australian Open, all those who were talking of my decision to pair with her were cheering me. The win in Melbourne for us was an effort, which made me realise how much she could still contribute.
Mixed doubles is serious business. For a doubles specialist like me who plays on the deuce court, it is an advantage to have a partner like Martina. Each match I play with Martina is an education for me. Her serve may be soft, but even in her heyday she was not a big server. She makes up for lack of weight in the serve with precision and I have no hesitation in telling my readers this partnership will last as long as Martina has the desire to continue playing.
As I mentioned the win in Melbourne changed my outlook. I am a positive person and feel that at 30 not only do I have a lot of tennis left in me, but also I can continue to win more.
This is solely because of my interaction with a person like Martina. When I started out with her, it was with a lot of respect for her. When she is playing ladies' doubles, I try to and do watch her matches. Our wavelengths match and that is why we have been able to do well.
Whatever is the outcome at The Championships, Martina and I are already looking ahead for the challenge at the US Open. It's a great feeling to be playing with her. I am sure we have it in us to win a couple of more Grand Slam titles. (PMG)