Tough draw for Indian tennis stars in Olympics

August 7th, 2008 - 3:17 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Venus Williams
By V. Krishnaswamy
Beijing, Aug 7 (IANS) The Indian Olympic contingent, hoping for a medal from tennis, had a rude shock as it was handed a tough draw for the competition which gets underway here Monday. Both Sania Mirza in women’s singles and men’s doubles pair Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, despite being seeded, would come up against tough opponents early in the competition.

Sania, still struggling with injury woes, has slipped to 60th in world rankings. On paper, she may have an easy first round opponent in Swiss Timea Bacsinszky, but if the Indian wins the first round, she runs into the 2000 Olympic champion and Wimbledon title holder Venus Williams in the second round.

Seeded seventh, Venus is probably one of the most formidable players on the circuit, who in Sydney won two gold medals, the second with sister, Serena, in women’s doubles. Serena is the fourth seed in Beijing.

Paes, one of the only two players to appear in a fifth Olympic Games, and Bhupathi will face the hugely talented Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon of France in the opening round. Though the Indians are seeded seventh, the 22-year-old Monfils this season has shown that he is a rising star, having reached the semi-finals of the French Open.

The six-foot-four Monfils first hit the spotlight in 2004 by winning three of the junior Grand Slam events - he lost in the third round of the US Open due to injury. A big serving player, his service style is often compared to Andy Roddick.

Should the Indians win the first round, they could run into Czech pair, Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek, both very good doubles players. Also in the same second quarter is the Swiss pair Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka.

The top quarter has American twins Bob and Mike Bryan as top seeds and Spaniards Rafael Nadal and Tommy Robredo as fourth seeds.

Paes and Bhupathi, relying more on memory for their fabled on-court chemistry, have hardly played together in the last few years. There were times when it looked as if they might even have to forego a chance to play at the Olympics, so strong was the acrimony between them.

It took several parties, including All India Tennis Association (AITA) and even tennis writers in either camp, to broker peace and they agreed to play a couple of tournaments together in the run-up to the Games. The duo showed glimpses of their old partnership as they reached the finals of the ATP tournament in s-Hertogenbosch.

But now the big question is if they will be able to replicate that at the Olympic Games.

The Indian pair set world tennis alight in 1999, reaching all four Grand Slam finals. But a year later they split because of personal problems. Since then, they have combined only in Olympic Games, Asian Games and Davis Cup. On the ATP Tour, they have played with different partners, even as a billion fans in India wished they sink their differences to play together.

Such has been the break-up, that the media is often replete with stories of their utter dislike and disgust for each other.

In women’s doubles, Sania Mirza and Sunitha Rao will meet the French pair of Tatiana Golovin and Pauline Parmentier and should the Indians win, they are likely to face top seeded Russians Svetlana Kuznetsova and Dinara Safina.

In the 20 years since tennis returned to the Olympic Games, the Beijing field is the strongest ever with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal heading the men’s competition.

In the women’s section, eight of the top nine players - barring the injured Maria Sharapova - will be seen in action, with world number one and two Serbs Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic, besides the Williams sisters, being among the top contenders.

Interestingly, the women’s competition also includes the 1996 singles champion, Lindsay Davenport of the US.

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