While the Grand Slams have been part of tennis history for more than a century now, tennis and the Olympics have a fairly recent association. Just 28 years ago, tennis was still a demonstration sport at the Games. Yet, the Olympics have gained in stature and significance among tennis players in recent times, and this year, it is one of the top priorities of most players. That might also have something to do with the fact that this time, the Olympic tennis competition will be held at Wimbledon, the Mecca of tennis.
For India’s Sania Mirza, the Olympic Games have been a goal and a dream for a while now. Sania set aside her singles ambitions in 2012 in order to ensure she qualifies for the doubles event. India’s one-billion plus population probably has one of the worst medal-to-population ratios, having won just 6 medals in the last 7 editions. It is unlikely that Sania would add to that tally in the women’s doubles event. The Indians ranked after her are Rushmi Chakravarthi (at no. 515 in the world), Ankita Raina (at no. 583), and Kyra Shroff (at no. 630).
However, Sania’s rise in doubles means she is one of India’s top medal contenders in the mixed doubles where she can partner either with Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi or Rohan Bopanna, all ranked inside the top 15 in the men’s doubles rankings. But that’s only if Sania gets there.
The 25 year old Hyderabadi has become a force in doubles thanks to her partnership with Russian Elena Vesnina, with whom she has won 3 titles since the start of 2011 and also reached the finals of the French Open last May. But the pair has not played together in the recent weeks. Vesnina decided to team up with a fellow Russian to appease her national Fed Cup captain and also strike the right partnership and chemistry before the Games in London. (Strangely enough, Vesnina has played the last two weeks on the tour with non-Russians leading to theories that the partnership may have soured)
Sania is currently ranked no. 9 in the doubles rankings and the Indian needs to maintain a ranking inside the top 10 as of June 11th in order to be assured of an entry into the women’s doubles. Only players on site for the singles or doubles event will be eligible to play in the mixed double category. Sania is defending 1400 ranking points from now till June 11th – all of those she earned for reaching the French Open finals last year.
In recent weeks though, without Vesnina, success has eluded her. Sania was forced to skip the Stuttgart event due to partner Flavia Pennetta’s wrist injury; she lost in the semi-finals of last week’s Estoril Open teaming up with Australian Ansastasia Rodionova and the Indo-Australian duo were also beaten in the first round of this week’s Madrid Open – meaning chances to earn valuable ranking points have gone wasted.
An early loss in Roland Garros will send her ranking outside the top 10 – which means her hopes of playing in the Olympics would then depend on a wild card from the ITF.
Success in doubles often comes only with the right partner and the right chemistry. The end of the Sania-Vesnina partnership means Sania’s Olympic dreams are hanging by a thread… and India’s medal hopes hinging on a prayer.