A reunion & two splits in Indian tennis` doubles-centric 2011
New Delhi: Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi reunited after nine years only to split up within months as Indian tennis` highs and lows remained centered on its doubles players in the year 2011.
In their bid to get an Olympic medal in the 2012 London Games, Paes and Bhupathi decided to play the season together but it all ended on a sour note as their split also led to the separation of the Indo-Pak team of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi.
Bhupathi is set to partner Bopanna in the coming season, running up to the Olympics, and it remains to be seen how they would shape up in London.
Paes, meanwhile, is likely to start the year with Serb Janko Tipsarevic in the Chennai Open after which he will play Tour events with Radek Stepanek.
Bopanna`s decision to part ways with Qureshi after four fruitful years came as a shock to everyone, including the Pakistani, who couldn`t believe that the Olympics would hurt their partnership for the entire season.
"I would have liked to continue because I had such a great year with Rohan. But I didn`t have any say in the decision. I was just told to find a partner. It definitely came as a shock to me," Qureshi said after the split.
Paes, on the other hand, said he wanted younger legs with him on the Tour next season in order to give the tried-and-tested partnership (Bhupathi and him) relief going into the Olympics.
Winners of three Grand Slams together, except the Australian Open, Paes and Bhupathi`s much-hyped comeback this year turned out to be satisfying as they made the yearend ATP World Tour Finals.
In fact, the legendary Indian pair proved that they still have a lot to offer as they reached the semifinals of the tournament, while Bopanna and Qureshi failed to win a single round-robin match.
However, the yearend performance of Bopanna and Qureshi was not a true reflection of their overall show.
The `Indo-Pak Express` compiled a consistent season, reaching the semifinals or better at seven tournaments in all, including the US Open, where they ended runners-up in 2010.
They managed to reach the quarterfinals of the French Open where they lost to the Bryan brothers before going the whole hog and winning the Gerry Weber Open.
Their biggest achievement of the year though came when they lifted their first Masters title in Paris to become the seventh doubles team to qualify for the ATP World Tour Finals.
Paes and Bhupathi too had a decent time together on the circuit. Having decided to team up after nine long years, Paes and Bhupathi, who share 23 Grand Slams titles between them, started with a bang.
They won the doubles title at their very first tournament after the reunion -- the Chennai Open in January. The two then reached the final of the first Grand Slam of the year, the Australian Open, where they lost to the American twins Bob and Mike Bryan.
Paes, then, famously said that the best thing to have happened was to have their "friendship back".
The pair went on to win their second title of the season by clinching the Sony Ericsson Open in April to become number one in the ATP World Tour doubles team rankings before they claimed their third title of the season in the Western & Southern Open final, their first title in 10 years at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Cincinnati.
But by the end of the season both their zeal and partnership came to an end.
Meanwhile, injury-prone Sania, started 2011 with an yet another injury -? first in her right knee, followed by left knee.
However, despite the niggles, the Hyderabadi went on to win three WTA doubles titles -- two with her Russian partner Elena Vesnina and one with Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan.
She also reached her first-ever women`s doubles Grand Slam final at the French Open but could not win the title as she and Vesnina got outplayed by Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka in the summit clash.
Sania admitted that reaching the final at Roland Garros gave her immense satisfaction.
"Reaching that final would be highlight of the season. I wish we had won that but making the final itself is very satisfying," Sania had said.
At Wimbledon, Sania-Vesnina again did well to reach the semifinals but lost to Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik.
In singles, her performance was hardly impressive, though she improved her ranking from 166 to 87.
She could reach the quarterfinals of just WTA tournament -- at Charleston (US) -- in the entire season and struggled to move beyond first and second rounds.
In men`s singles, Somdev Devvarman, who received the Arjuna Award this year, reached his highest singles ranking of 62 before finishing the season at No. 84.
While his dreams of breaking into top-50 this season took a beating, his slow but steady rise could not be ignored.
Somdev not only took on the biggies of the game – Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal -- but also managed to put on impressive shows before going down against them.
After giving a good account of himself at the Davis Cup World Group against Serbia, he played at the BNP Paribas Open and reached the fourth round of the tournament. This has been his best performance at an ATP Masters 1000 event so far.
In this tournament he went on to beat the likes Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus (No. 44) and Belgium`s Xavier Malisse (No. 49) in the main draw to set up a clash against Nadal (No. 2) in the fourth round. He lost to Nadal 5-7, 4-6 but not before giving him a tough fight.
In the Sony Ericsson Miami Masters ATP 1000 tournament, too, he did well to reach the third round, while in the US Open, facing Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the second round, he lost.
The next year`s focus on the Olympics and with Bhupathi and Bopanna set to represent India in men`s doubles, the equations in the Indian tennis may change in the coming months.
Apart from the duo from Karnataka, if Paes also manages to reach an individual doubles ranking inside the top-10 by June next year, he can partner the country`s top singles player, Somdev, giving India two entries in the men`s doubles event at the London Games.
Bhupathi, too, remained vague as to whether there was any possibility of him and Paes coming together before the Olympics.
"The Olympics is seven months away. There are lots of points to be defended, matches to be won, and I think the positive note for India tennis is that they have three options unlike the last few years when they only had two. I`m sure they`ll make the best decision and send the best team in. You can never say never about anything in life," said Bhupathi.