Sania set standard as stars descended on Indian stage

With mixed doubles crowns at the Asian Games and the US Open, the Hyderabadi kept the country's flag flying in major events

Sania set standard as stars descended on Indian stage

Who had expected the likes of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic to cross continents and show their super skills on the Indian courts? Or watching the Indian players rubbing shoulders with these international stars in front of the home crowd?

With two Indians floating two different tennis leagues this year, a clutch of medals at the Asian Games and Sania Mirza enjoying an outstanding season, it was a memorable year for the sport when the unthinkable turned into reality.

Vijay Amritraj with his Champions Tennis League and Mahesh Bhupathi, founding a star-packed International Premier Tennis League, provided the best of the sport to the Indian fan.

Amritraj’s ‘India-centric’ league saw even the home-bred juniors and local players sharing the dugout and training sessions with top players like Agnieszka Radwanska, Jelena Jankovic, Tommy Robredo, some of them even partnering them in doubles matches.

Bhupathi took it a step further. The presence of champions like Federer, Djokovic, Caroline Wozniacki, Anna Ivanovic and former greats like Pete Sampras and Goran Ivanisevic created a much needed buzz about tennis in the country.

These leagues might be ‘glorified exhibitions’ as termed by the ATP chief Chris Kermode but for India they could be useful in promoting the sport. The crowd just couldn’t have enough of Sania and Rohan Bopanna teaming up with Federer for mixed doubles and men’s doubles sets.

For Sania, it was one of the best years of her eventful career. Her decision to quit singles did raise apprehensions about her future but the Hyderabadi put them to rest by establishing herself as one of the best women doubles players in 2014.

She won her third mixed doubles Grand Slam by clinching the US Open with Bruno Soares, and rounded off the year with a historic win partnering Cara Black at the season ending WTA Finals.

Apart from this, she reached her career best doubles ranking of 5 in July, reached seven WTA tour finals with Cara Black and won three titles out of them. She provided the spark to India’s campaign at the Asian Games after top players like Leander Paes, Somdev Devvarman and Rohan Bopanna withdrew from the event citing professional commitments.

The attitude of the players didn’t go well with the Sports Ministry which reiterated its policy of not funding those players who were unavailable for national duty.

But Indian young guns came out with flying colours in Incheon, winning five medals. Sania claimed the mixed doubles gold with Saketh Myneni and women’s doubles bronze with Prarthana Thombare. Saketh was another star at the Asian Games, also winning the doubles silver with Sanam Singh. Yuki Bhambri won bronze medal in singles and also in doubles with Divij Sharan.

It was otherwise an ordinary year for the rest of the Indian men players on the circuit, barring the high of Davis Cup team reaching the World Group-play off where they lost to a second string Serbian team in Bangalore. Somdev, Bopanna and Paes struggled in their search for titles while Yuki, after an encouraging 2013, fell to injuries, his Asian Games performance being the only solace.

It was a promising year for new faces like Saketh and Ramanathan Ramkumar. Saketh, especially had a rewarding year, where he made his Davis Cup debut in the tie against Chinese Taipei, and returned with two medals from the Asian Games.

He took the confidence to the Challenger circuit, winning his maiden $50,000 singles title in Indore, and three doubles titles, thus reaching a career high ranking of 241 in October.

As the year comes to a close, a chance to cash in on the highs beckons Indian tennis in the coming year.

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