The seventh-seeded pair of Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna failed to capitalise on a 3-0 lead in the second set and went down 6-3, 6-4 to Richard Gasquet and Julien Benneteau of France in the doubles pre-quarterfinals at the AELTC on Tuesday.
The Indians, who had trained and competed through the season in preparation for the Olympics, looked to have found their way back into the match, breaking Gasquet in the second game of the second set, with Bopanna coming up with a sharp backhand volley on the second breakpoint.
However, it was Bopanna himself who undid the good work — he double-faulted on game-point in the next game, and hurried a volley into the net to concede a breakpoint.
It was here Gasquet showed his class with a backhand down-the-line return winner to break serve.
Gasquet hit a similar shot in the ninth game to force two breakpoints on Bopanna’s serve and Bhupathi mistimed a volley into the net to surrender a big advantage to the French.
Gasquet then served out the match that spanned an hour and 17 minutes, as Benneteau came up with a drop volley to bring the curtains down on the challenge of the Indian pair that had fought the National federation to get entry.
After having played a high quality match in beating Max Mirnyi and Alexander Bury — the Indian duo did not drop serve in the whole match in the first round — it was a shock for the Indian pair.
But it was the classy game of Gasquet, admired even by Roger Federer, and the gutsy play of a charged-up Benneteau that clinched it for the French.
It was perhaps the inexperience of Bopanna, competing in his maiden Olympics, or the odd mistake by Bhupathi himself who was playing in his fifth, that decided the course of the match.
But there was no doubt that the French played the big points better, in an entertaining contest.
The other Indian pair of Leander Paes and Vishnu Vardhan will play their pre-quarterfinal match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and on Wednesday.
Paes made his Olympic debut at the Barcelona Games in 1992, and has featured in every edition since, winning the singles bronze at Atlanta ’96. Incidentally, Vishnu Vardhan is his 94th partner at Tour-level tennis.