The Indian tennis fan has, over the last two decades, kept an eager eye on the fortunes of Indian players during the four Grand Slam events.
First it used to be the ‘Indian Express’ of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, then Sania Mirza and often Rohan Bopanna who had given us enough reasons to cheer about in the doubles events.
The Lee-Hesh duo had been very much the flavour of the sport for India at the start of the millennium — enjoying the No. 1 doubles ranking — while Mirza did the unthinkable for any Indian women on the WTA Tour when she climbed on top of the ladder in the company of Martina Hingis not so long ago.
However, it will be more a feeling of déjà vu with which they will be following the Australian Open from Monday. Paes, now all of 46 years, plans to begin his ‘One last Roar’ — his farewell year on the Tour — in Melbourne where he has a tally of four of his 18 major titles (one men’s doubles and three in mixed doubles). The veteran, who has slid down the rankings over the last couple of years with age catching up on him, will however have to wait for the wild card from the organisers before he flies Down Under.
There is still an element of suspense about whom he will partner as Paes, during a recent conversation with Gulf News, decided to keep his cards close to his chest. It will, at best, be a wait for three more days as the wild cards for the doubles competition will be known latest by Thursday.
Mirza, on the other hand, will be trying to emulate the likes of Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters who returned to tennis after motherhood. The initial vibes had been good as only on Sunday, Mirza and her Ukrainian partner Nadiia Kichenok cruised to the title in Hobart to raise hopes for an equally stirring show in the year’s first slam.
It will be a tougher task in a slam — and the barrier-breaker from Hyderabad knows it only too well. In an interview soon after Hobart triumph, she tempered down the expectations by saying that she would take it ‘one week at a time’ and revealed how she drew the inspiration from having her two-year-old son by the courtside.
What’s more significant is her admission that she hoped to show other South Asian mothers that having children doesn’t mean giving up on their dreams.
However, ‘giving up’ is a phase which does not exist in the DNA or a Leander Paes or Sania Mirza.