Leander Paes' dream of winning a medal in his seventh consecutive appearance at an Olympic Games came to an abrupt halt on Saturday when he and Rohan Bopanna crashed out in the first round of the men's doubles tennis event against the big serving Polish team of Lukasz Kubot and Marcin Matkowski in straight sets – 6-4, 7-6(6).
The first set saw four breaks of serve, between 2-2 and 4-4, which in itself is a rare occurrence in men's tennis, especially given the quality of the players involved. It also gave an idea as to how slow the courts in Rio must be. The Polish pair hung on to go ahead 5-4 and proceeded to break the Indians' serve at love to give them the first set in just 33 minutes.
They never looked back from there and looked very comfortable in the second set, especially on their serve. The only time that the Indians looked like they were going to push the match into a third set was when they broke the Polish pair at 5-5 to serve for the second set, but once again, it was not to be as the Indians got broken at love and the match was pushed into a tiebreaker. An early mini-break saw the Polish pair go up 4-1 and though the Indians did fight back and managed to get to one set point at 6-5, it was the big serving Poles that ran away with the match.
For Leander, it must have been heartbreaking. For someone who plays his heart out when he turns up for the country, this must have hurt. But sport can be cruel. It's only your performance on that day that matters. On Saturday, the Polish pair were superior and it may have been their pre-Olympic preparation that made the difference. They have been playing together for sometime now, in preparation for this event, and I'm sure there is a lesson in there somewhere for our boys to learn.
But Rohan still has one more chance at a medal in the mixed doubles event – alongside Sania Mirza – and I hope that he has better luck then.
There was more disappointment in store for India in the ladies doubles.
Pitted against a much stronger Chinese team (on paper) of Shuai Zhang and Shuai Peng, the World Number One, Sania Mirza, playing with an inexperienced Prarthana Thombare, almost ruined the day for the Chinese juggernaut. The Indians girls played the match of their lives, tried their hearts out, but at the end of an epic three hour battle came up just a little short and lost 7-6, 5-7, 7-5 to their fancied opponents.
After starting with a bang and going up 2-0 in the first set, the Indians unfortunately could not keep up the momentum. After trading breaks right up to 4-4, the Indians got the crucial break to serve for the set, only to squander away the advantage. A couple of games later, they did save two set points to set up a tiebreaker which they lost 8-6 but not before saving another set point.
The Sania-Prarthana pair took a 5-2 lead in the second set before the Chinese caught up. The Indian pair however grabbed the next two games to restore parity in the match.
The third set saw the Chinese pair go up 3-1 but the Indians fought back valiantly to not only level the scores but also edge ahead 4-3. The experienced Chinese team, however, raised the level of their game and served for the match at 5-4. With a loss staring in their face, the Indians fought brilliantly to break back but that unfortunately was their last piece of resistance. The experience and maturity of the Chinese came through and they prevailed 7-5.
Hats off to the Indian girls, hats off to their spirit.
But for me, the day really belonged to Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium, who stunned Venus Williams, the former world number one and four time Olympic gold medallist. In a three hour battle, the Belgian held her nerves much better than her American opponent and in a nerve racking thriller, prevailed 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5). Not only did she win the match, she also won the hearts of the near full tennis stadium with her brilliant tactical play – especially the judicious use of the drop shot and the lob.
Japan's Kei Nishikori, the highest Men's seed to take the court on Saturday, won very comfortably against the in-form Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas. Two other Japanese players, Taro Daniel and Y. Sugita, also advanced to the second round. The Japanese pair of Doi and Hozumi pulled off the biggest upset of the day in the Women's doubles by knocking out the second seeded French pair of Garcia and Mladenovic in a strange score of 6-0, 0-6, 6-4.
The Chinese women also had a great day with Sai Sai Zheng pulling off a great win against the fourth seeded Agnieska Radwanska of Poland, and Shuai Zhang taking out the 12th seeded Swiss Timea Bacsinszky in a final set tiebreaker.
What a day for tennis! This is what the Olympics is all about, reputations are enhanced and athletes strive for that extra bit because they know it's their country's pride at stake.
The big guns all come on Sunday and in what will be yet another exciting day of tennis.