After a disappointing start to the Indian tennis campaign in the men’s and ladies’ doubles, it was the mixed doubles pairing of Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza that gave the fairly large Indian supporters at the Olympic Tennis Center something to cheer about. With a comfortable straight set victory over the Australian pair of John Peers and Samantha Stosur, the Indians moved into the quarter final stage of the mixed doubles event.
Seeded fourth in the event, both Sania and Rohan appeared to be a little shaky at the start and struggled through their first few service games. Rohan, especially, could not get a high percentage of his first serves. Fortunately, they hung on and drew first blood when they broke the serve of John Seers at 4-4.
But the joy was short-lived as at 5-4, Rohan promptly lost serve, helped largely by three volleying errors by Sania. The Indians, however, did not let that affect their game or morale and struck right back to break Samantha Stosur. Sania held serve at 6-5 and the Indians were on their way to victory, having won the first set 7-5.
The second set went with serve once again, till 3-3, at which point the comparatively inexperienced John Seers faltered, and with the help of two double faults handed the crucial break of serve to the Indians. There was no looking back from there, and with Sania holding serve comfortably at 4-3, the writing on the wall was very clear. The Australians did push the match in to the 10th game, when Stosur held serve, but Rohan comfortably held serve with a couple of aces at 5-4 and carved out a facile 7-5 6-4 win over the Australians.
What came through very clearly in the match was the chemistry between Rohan and Sania. It was good to see them very positive in their body language. It was great to see them enjoying the battle and the challenge of the Australian pair.
These two qualities are certainly going to help them in the sterner battles ahead. In sharp contrast was the combination of the Australian pair. They let the pressure get to them and it was John Peers who first cracked and gave the match away. Samantha Stosur, a former world number one, gave a good account of herself but it was no match for the sheer power of the current number one, Sania Mirza.
The Indians will come up in the quarter finals against the formidable team of Andy Murray and Heather Watson, who were granted a last minute entry due to the withdrawal of the Romanian pair of Mergea and Niculescu. That is going to be a big task for the Indian pair, especially as Heather Watson herself is a fabulous doubles player and she can’t ask for a better partner than Andy Murray. Though Andy Murray doesn’t play doubles on the tour, let’s not forget that he has single-handedly won the Davis Cup for Great Britain by playing some spectacular doubles in tandem with his brother.
In other matches on Thursday, Juan Martin del Potro carried on with his heroics with another hard-fought win, while Rafael Nadal coasted through comfortably against Gilles Simon, after some initial resistance. Thomaz Bellucci, the local favourite, steam-rolled over the eighth seed, David Goffe, of Belgium in straight sets to keep the Brazilian hopes of a medal in tennis alive.
The bottom half saw Gael Monfils of France prevail over the in-form Marin Cilic, and set up a quarter-final match against Japanese Kei Nishikori. The last quarter-final will see Steve Johnson of USA take on second seed Andy Murray, who struggled to beat the Italian Fognini, after being down a break in the third set.
Rafael Nadal guaranteed himself a medal in tennis by entering the finals of the men’s doubles with Marc Lopez, and will take on the Romanian pair of Tecau and Mergea for the gold medal. The ladies’ doubles semi-finals will see two pairs from the Czech Republic compete against the Russians in one half and the Swiss in the other half, while the women’s singles semi-finals will see the Puerto Rican Monica Puig take on Kvitova of the Czech Republic in the top half. In the other half, American Madison Keys takes on the German second seed Angelique Kerber.
After the washout of the previous day, it was a day full of exciting tennis for the large crowds that came in on Thursday. As we move towards the business end of the event, we will hope that the Indian pair of Sania-Rohan will give us something to cheer about on Friday, on what has been so far a disappointing Olympics for the Indians.