It also should not come as a big surprise to see a near full house for the doubles matches involving Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, when some of the young tyros attracted only a sparse gathering. It’s certainly a sign of the popularity and reverence these two players command from the public.
Over the years, Paes and Bhupathi have been Indian tennis’ dreamcatchers, and much like that Red Indian symbol of luck, the crack duo has gifted the fans colourful dreams and hopes. They have worked wonders for the country in Davis Cup, stitching together some outstanding victories in singles and doubles.
Paes’ victory the over monster-serving Croatian Goran Ivanisevic in five sets still remains fresh in memory, just like that bronze medal he won in the Atlanta Olympics. Along with Bhupathi, he reached the final of all four Grand Slams, the first pair to achieve the feat since the Open era began in 1968.
India have produced some great players in the past like Ramanathan Krishnan, Ramesh Krishnan and Vijay Amritraj, but the achievements of Paes and Bhupathi, in Davis Cup and in the Grand Slams, gave tennis a new identity in the country. It became a sport of the masses. Paes and Bhupathi became the faces of Indian tennis.
Recently, they underlined the fact that age has not diminished the fire when they teamed together in the Davis Cup tie to pull India out of a tight corner against Brazil. “They are a real inspiration for us. They have been playing for a number of years now and their achievements tell a great tale of their endurance, talent and dedication. You can’t look for better role models,” Somdev Devvarman said.
Paes and Bhupathi indeed are great role models for any aspiring tennis player, but the stalwarts are in their twilight zone and we can’t hope for them to go on forever.
It’s time to unearth worthy successors and save the empire that Lee-Hesh built with a lot of hard work from crumbling with their exit. Let’s take a stock of the situation.
Rohan Bopanna has already reached 30 and despite his recent red-hot form, consistent miracles can’t be expected from the Bangalore man, especially when it comes to singles.
Bopanna has all the assets of a top-league tennis player -- a big serve, powerful ground strokes and clean touch at the net. But temperament has been his biggest enemy, often struggling in high-pressure situations, an area in which his illustrious seniors excelled.
Somdev, who has improved a lot as a singles player in the last year, has to go a long way to make his presence felt in the international arena. The top-seeded Indian has done well in the Commonwealth Games, but he has to carry on from here and achieve bigger laurels for the country.
The world number 96 has tremendous fighting spirit, as he showed in Chennai against Brazil in the crucial reverse singles, but temperament alone can’t win you matches consistently. Somdev relies more on an all-court game, a vastly improved serve, long rallies from the baseline and an occasional surge to the net to go past his opponents.
But that also reflects Somdev’s biggest problem -- lack of a singular weapon that can rescue him in a tight situation.
But he remains the country’s finest bet for the long-term and if other juniors like Karan Rastogi and Yuki Bhambri can support him, then India can hope to keep the flow going.
“The youngsters in India are talented. These days, there is a lot of chance for international exposure and playing against quality opponents. It can help the youngsters become better players and I am sure they will bring a lot of honour for the country,” Paes said.
Will Paes’ words come true? Only time will tell.