Jan 30, 2009

Sport - Tennis;Bhupathi on brink of career Slam

Prajwal Hegde

BANGALORE: Ten years after he made the Australian Open men's doubles final for the first time, partnering countryman Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi is
back in the title round.

The Bangalorean, playing with Mark Knowles of the Bahamas this time around, will take on the Bryan twins - Bob and Mike - in the final on Saturday. Bhupathi, on the brink of a career Grand Slam, going for his 11th major crown, could well have had Paes on the other side of the net.

In the first of the men's doubles semi-finals in Melbourne on Thursday, third seeds Bhupathi and Knowles scored a 58-minute 6-3, 6-1 win over the Polish-Austrian duo of Lukasz Kubot and Oliver Marach. Later, second-seeded Californians Bob and Mike Bryan dismissed Paes and Lukas Dlouhy 6-3, 6-3 in 54 minutes.

Bhupathi and Knowles, who came together as a team last year, will be contesting their first Grand Slam final as a pair. "Mark and I have played some big finals like the Super 9s, but of course a Grand Slam final is different," Bhupathi told TOI. "It would've been a factor if neither of us had played a Grand Slam final before, but we have, several times individually and we've been playing together for sometime now."

Bhupathi, however, is particularly pleased with the quality of the opposition in the final, given that the Bryan twins have been the most dominant force in the doubles game for the last several years. "It would be especially satisfying to beat a top team in a Grand Slam final," he said.

Bhupathi and Knowles beat the Bryans in a fiercely-contested quarterfinal at the Australian Open last year, but have lost to them four times since. Three of those matches, the last earlier this month in Sydney, were closely fought contests.

"It'll boil down to which team handles the pressure of playing a Grand Slam final better," Bhupathi said. "We know each others' games very well. I think I've played them with seven or eight different partners, so I don't think there'll be any surprises out there."

Bhupathi, who will be contesting his second final in Melbourne, having finished runner-up in 1999, said he is better equipped. "It feels good to be in the final after 10 years. It'll be special to win it. It's a trophy I've always wanted to have in my cabinet."

Bhupathi has a 4-3 win-loss record in Grand Slam finals. Knowles has a 3-6 record.

Bhupathi and Knowles won three titles in seven finals, in 2008. They made their Grand Slam debut as a pair last year at the Australian Open and reached the semi-finals.

Knowles won the Australian Open in 2002 with Daniel Nestor. He reached finals with Nestor in 1995 and 2003.

Bob and Mike Bryan will contest their fifth Australian Open final. They were runners-up in 2004 & 2005 and won titles in 2006 and 2007.

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