A. Joseph Antony

HYDERABAD: If it takes two to tango, this duo may see India waltz its way to Perth. The west Australian city will host the main event of the Hopman Cup in January. Nearer home, the curtain goes up on its first Asian edition at the Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh tennis complex here on Thursday.

Leander Paes pulled out on Tuesday and Rohan Bopanna stepped into his shoes. Those may be hard to fill, but the wiry Bangalore lad had taken the King himself to a tie-break in June. On grass at the Gerry Weber Open in Halle, Germany, Roger Federer prevailed 7-6(4), 6-3.

Cut back to Delhi, December 2001 and Bopanna was paired with a raw but gifted 15-year-old at the DSCL National tennis championships. They took the doubles crown.

Bopanna's partner was to go places too, subduing top-ten titans such as Svetlana Kuznetsova and Martina Hingis at a later stage. Sania Mirza will enter the arena before a raucous but loyal home crowd, where her WTA Open triumph last year lingers fresh in public memory.

On the absence of big names, Anil Khanna of the All India Tennis Association said top players were committed elsewhere and in preparation for the Doha Asian Games.

With this the inaugural event, the Asian Hopman Cup is assured of a permanent place in the international competition.

Adversaries from across Asia may not pose much of a threat and the will to win will be abetted by attack, always taking precedence over defence for Bopanna and Sania. Diwali may be over and gone, but don't rule out the fireworks when this twosome takes the stage.

Later, Chief Minister Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy picked the draws, as per which India, Japan and China are in Group A while Chinese Taipei, Thailand and Philippines make up Group B.

Singareni Collieries chips in

Singareni Collieries has chipped in with a sponsorship of Rs.10 lakhs for the event, according to a press release. The cheque has been handed over to Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh.

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