Sania, Paes strike it rich in doubles

Sania, Paes strike    it rich in doubles

Sania Mirza broke new ground, claimed the women’s doubles No 1 ranking and left behind an unforgettable trail in 2015. Leander Paes gave the country more to celebrate by dominating the mixed doubles events in Grand Slams and Yuki Bhambri assured that the future of Indian tennis is on the right track by cracking the top 100 rankings in men's singles.

Add to it, the achievement of young Sumit Nagal, who won the boys’ doubles title in Wimbledon, and Indian tennis could look back with pride at the year gone by. In fact, it turned out to be a memorable outing for the Indians at the All England Lawns with Sania and Paes winning the women's and mixed doubles titles partnering Martina Hingis.

The year though was highlighted by the unprecedented achievements of Sania who added to her legacy by becoming the first Indian woman to reach the World No 1 ranking. Her prodigious pairing with Swiss great Martina Hingis, from March 2015, provided astonishing results. Hingis, with one of the best volleys in the world and an equally efficient backhand, and Sania, with her fearsome forehand, quickly became a force to reckon with on the women’s circuit. That they are friends off-court added to their chemistry. They won a hat-trick of titles to start with and the win at Charleston pushed Sania to World No 1 position, with Hingis encouraging her all through. The two, named “SanTina” by fans, racked up nine titles this year including two Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon and the US open, and seven WTA tournaments.

Since the US Open they are on a roll, having stretched their unbeaten record to 22 matches and ended the year with an impressive 55-7 record. In fact, before partnering Hingis, Sania had already won a doubles title with American Bethanie Mattek-Sands to take her overall tally of titles to 10 this year. It was also the year when Sania won her maiden women’s doubles Grand Slam title, triumphing at Wimbledon. Previously, she had three Grand Slam trophies in mixed doubles. Her achievements fetched her the highest civilian award, the Khel Ratna, in August.

In men’s singles, it was a year when Bhambri came of age. The 2009 junior Australia Open champion began the year at 315th place but qualified for the Australian Open. There he gave a good account of himself during his first round defeat of Andy Murray. He followed it up by winning the ATP Challenger in Shanghai besides making two finals. It catapulted him into the top-100 bracket and he capped it by winning his second Challenger of the year in Pune, reaching his career-high ranking of 88. He ended the year at 93. But while Yuki progressed, Somdev Devvarman slipped steeply in rankings to be at 180.

The 42-year-old Paes showed he is not finished yet, winning three out of the four mixed doubles titles partnering Hingis. The titles at the Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open took his overall Grand Slam tally to 17. However, his doubles form floundered as he struggled to find a stable partner. His lone title of the year came with South African Raven Klaasen when the two won the Heineken Open in Auckland in January. With the Rio Olympics likely to be Paes’ last, the Indian doubles exponent would need to be at his best to finish on a high.

The country’s limited success in singles events also rankled in the year while the state of women’s tennis continues to be woeful.

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