For Indian tennis, the London Olympics was the single biggest event of the year. With the cream of Indian tennis featuring the likes of Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza expected to lead the challenge, a medal to add to the solitary bronze won by Paes at the 1996 Atlanta Games seemed a plausible dream.
Instead, the events that unfolded on the eve of the quadrennial games showed Indian tennis at its lowest ebb in what was overall a disappointing year — the modest success of the younger lot notwithstanding.
It all started when Bhupathi refused to partner Paes in the doubles. It was the best possible combination in spite of the pair having returned empty handed on four previous occasions. But, the two wouldn’t see eye to eye. The All India Tennis Association (AITA), in an attempt to arrive at a compromise, chose to send two teams and paired Bhupathi with Rohan Bopanna and the country’s best ranked doubles player, Paes, with Vishnu Vardhan, a player then ranked 207 in the world.
In order to mollify Paes, he was paired with Sania Mirza in mixed doubles. The decision was baffling because Sania had won the French mixed doubles title with Bhupathi barely a month ago. The discontent created by all this proved telling and it was hardly a surprise that the dream turned to nought.
In the aftermath of the Olympics, the AITA promptly dropped both Bopanna and Bhupathi from the Davis Cup squad that took on New Zealand in the Asia-Oceania Davis Cup relegation play-off. The young team comprising Yuki Bhambri, Vishnu Vardhan, Divij Sharan and Sanam Singh led India to a 5-0 victory. The opponent was hardly intimidating and the quality of tennis not sky high. But it surely was a positive. After the tie, the association went a step further by banning Bopanna and Bhupathi for two years.
Away from the Olympics, however, the doubles stars did enjoy success ranging from moderate to good through the year. Leander teaming up with Radek Stepanek won the Australian Open and finished runner-up in the US Open. He also paired with Elena Vesnina in mixed doubles for two second place finishes at Australian Open and Wimbledon. The duo of Bhupathi and Bopanna was runner up at the season ending World Tour Finals.
Yuki Bhambri reached a career high ranking of 174 and won Challenger titles in both singles and doubles. Divij Sharan also pocketed two doubles titles on the Challenger circuit, while left hander Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan won his maiden National Championship.
Somdev Devvarman had a forgettable year missing a string of tournaments owing to injury. He did enter the Olympics singles draw on a wild card, but crashed out in the very first round. He is, nonetheless, expected to be back for the Davis Cup World Group against South Korea next February.
The need, however, is for an inspirational leader to mentor the talented bunch to keep intact the hopes for a better 2013.
Keywords: Indian Tennis