The brave run of the 166th ranked Sania Mirza was halted in the women's singles semifinals by the big-serving Akgul Amanmuradova of Uzbekistan in a three-hour battle, but the spirited Indian marched into the mixed doubles final with Vishnu Vardhan thereafter to ensure a better medal for her in the Asian Games on Sunday.
The joy of the Indian tennis camp grew manifold, as the Commonwealth Games gold medallist, Somdev Devvarman reached the singles semifinals and the doubles final with Sanam Singh.
The focus was on the 24-year-old Sania, as she looked to have recaptured the magic that saw her win a gold and two silver medals in the last Asian Games in Doha. In the event, Sania was a shade tentative against the free-stroking Akgul, whom she had beaten every time in their last four meetings in the international circuit.
The Uzbek had better reserves of energy this day to prevail 6-7(7), 6-3, 6-4 in the gripping climax, and set up a title clash with Shuai Peng of China who defeated the No.1 seed Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan in three sets.
“This is the first time that I have beaten her. She will be back in the top 100 soon,” said Akgul about the Indian.
Sania had one last chance to pull through when Akgul faced a breakpoint in the ninth game of the decider, but the India No.1 was unable to take advantage of it. Having gone through a heavy dose of antibiotics to battle an infection in her ear and throat recently, Sania did not have the best of physical strength, and it was important for her to tighten her grip over the opponent at the earliest, as she had done in the quarterfinals against Tamarine Tanasugarn of Thailand.
However, the tall and strongly-built Akgul enjoyed the pace of Sania's strokes to counter punch nicely and served 10 aces to tilt the balance in her favour. Sania had expended a lot of energy in sewing up the first set, and it was her courage that carried her through the contest.
Sania-Vishnu in final
In the mixed doubles semifinals, later in the evening, Sania and Vishnu Vardhan, seeded sixth, toppled the top-seeded Tamarine Tanasugarn and Sanchai Ratiwatana of Thailand 6-3, 6-7(3), 10-5. Sania had won the mixed doubles gold in the last edition with Leander Paes, and the same pair had won the bronze in mixed doubles in 2002 in Busan when Sania was 15-years-old.
Somdev Devarman gave a lot of hope for the 307th ranked Zhang Ze and the Chinese supporters when he got broken twice in the first set after leading 3-0, and once in the second set to trail 1-3, but he found his rhythm to silence the vociferous crowd in court No.1. He won 6-4, 6-4 to set up a semifinal against Tatsuma Ito of Japan, who beat the defending champion, Danai Udomchoke of Thailand for the loss of five games.
Karan Rastogi fought hard against the 40th ranked Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan, but the top seed pulled through 6-2, 4-6, 7-5, to meet Go Soeda of Japan in the semifinals.
In the doubles semifinals, Devvarman and Sanam Singh exhibited their all-court game in stopping Jae Cho-Soong and Hyun Joon Kim of Korea 6-3, 7-5. The Indian pair will challenge the second-seeded Gong Maoxin and Li Zhe of China for the gold medal.
“I like playing doubles. It is going to be a fun match for sure,” said Devvarman, as he visualised the final against the Chinese on centre court.
“We have to come out with energy and be ready,” said Sanam Singh.
In the mixed doubles final, to be played as the second match on court No.1 on Monday, Sania and Vishnu Vardhan will face the second-seeded Yung Jan Chan and Tsung Hua Yang of Chinese Taipei.
With Indians suddenly finding the gold medals in shooting and athletics, the tennis players will be keen to join the select band.
Keywords: Asian Games 2010