Aug 8, 2008

Sport - Leander & Mahesh ready to strike

BEIJING: Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi are trying to be fourth-time lucky in the Olympic Games.

“We had a very good work-out. The preparation has been great. Both of us reached the semifinals of Cincinnatti. We would have trained in Los Angeles only if we had not done well in the last tournament.

“It makes sense to come early and get acclimatised to the slow and high bouncing courts and conditions here,” said Paes, after a rigorous training session with his erstwhile partner Martin Damm and Pavel Vizner of the Czech Republic.

On a warm day, it was a joy to watch Paes and Bhupathi, trying to tune themselves towards peak form and fitness, so as to be ready when the competition begins. They start against Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon of France.

Tough draw

“It is a tough draw. We are in fact lucky to be seeded No.7. They have used a new system of singles rankings to seed the doubles players. The first round is always tough. The French are big guys,” said Paes, as he viewed the second quarter of the draw in which the Indian pair figured.

The Indian duo is likely to meet the Czech pair of Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek if it pulls off the first round. The quarterfinals could well be against Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka, seeded fourth.

“Federer is a genius and Wawrinka is a top-10 singles player,” Paes pointed out, though he in partnership with Lukas Dlouhy had beaten them in straight sets in Canada, a fortnight ago.

Well, the Swiss may have to first get past special invitees, the defending champions Fernando Gonzalez and Nicolas Massu of Chile.

The Bryan brothers, Bob and Mike, are seeded No.1, while the Serbs, Novak Djokovic and Nenad Zimonjic are second. Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram of Israel are seeded third and figure in the third quarter. The Spaniards Rafael Nadal and Tommy Robredo are seeded No.6, and figure in the top quarter.

Asked whether he was hungry to win a better medal than the singles bronze that he had won in Atalanta in 1996, Paes, competing in his fifth Olympics, said that the media would run out of pages to write, if he started answering the question.

Mahesh practised for an additional hour with Sunitha Rao as Sania Mirza had not reached yet.

Sania’s path is difficult

In fact, Sania has a tough draw, as she runs into the seventh seed and Wimbledon champion Venus Williams in the second round, if she gets past Iveta Benesova of the Czech Republic.

Even in doubles, Sania and Sunitha are likely to meet the top-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova and Dinara Safina, if they beat Tatiana Golovin and Pauline Parmentier of France in the first round.

“We are here to win the tournament, and the draw does not matter, or who we play first”, said Bhupathi, who had a snide remark at the assembled Indian media by saying that only five per cent of them believed that the Indian pair could actually win an Olympic medal.

“We are still capable of winning matches. People say that we are over the hill. I don’t see any hill in front. We are playing top quality tennis”, he said.

“There are some great doubles teams playing each other in the first round. We are lucky to be seeded. They have to show some consistency, as it is the first time the singles ranking has been considered for doubles seeding. They don’t do that even in Grand Slams,” said Bhupathi, as he turned his ire on the authorities.

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi have different personalities, but the same goal.

Can they give us a lasting memory of their world class partnership? Only time will tell.

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