Perfect start ends in a nightmare
There couldn't have been a more perfect start for the Indians. There couldn't have been a more nightmarish end to it all.
Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi went into their bronze medal play-off match against Croats Mario Ancic and Ivan Ljubicic looking just like the way they should have -- fresh and eager to call the shots. They forgot the lines somewhere in the middle of the first set, woke up in the second and then fought like tigers in the third. In the end, lady luck decided to walk towards the other end of the court.
"We have never fought better in the past. We gave it all," said Leander after the 6-7 (5-7), 6-4, 14-16 defeat.
At the end of the three hour, 58 minute marathon there were tears in the eyes of the Indian fans as Ancic and Ljubicic pulled out their shirts, thew it into the stands and celebrated wildly, draped in the red and white chequered Croatian flag.
Paes, serving at 30-40, 14-15 in the deciding set had just put that crucial volley into the net and slumped on the court in despair.
It could well have been so different for the Indians. For, they had three break points just in the previous game with Ancic serving. But for that matter, even the Croats had match points on three previous occasions and had seen the Indians claw their way back.
It was thriller not for the weak-hearted, a see-saw battle that had the spectators on the edge of their seats. It was a game that saw some terrific serving (the balding Lbubicic firing at more than 220 kmph), some great volleys and returns and some terrible errors that underlined the tension that goes with playing under the national flag.
The Indian started very well, breaking Ancic in the second and then going up 3-0. But by the middle of the set, they had suddenly lost focus and given enough room to the big serving Croats to fight back. Bhupathi, whose serve has lost a bit of its sting in recent times came under pressure in the seventh game and was broken. The games then went with serve, and in the tie-breaker, the Indians once again lost way after leding 5-2 to lose the set.
In the second set, the Indian broke Ancic again and hung in there to win 6-4. By that time Ljubicic had settled into his groove, serving with amazing power. The court came alive in the third set with supporters of both the teams deciding to raise the decibel limit a little. The Indians broke Ljubicic, the Croats returned the compliment and at 3-3 a fight was on. And what a fight it was!
Ljubicic was firing aces almost at will, Ancic and Bhupathi were making some great returns from the back of the court, and Paes was charging at the net like a true predator. A great match which ended with that missed Paes volley.