After months of controversies and dilly-dallying, Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna finally landed on the court together, for their first round match against Poland’s Lukasz Kubot and Marcin Matkowski. But all the tension leading up to the Rio Olympics seems to have been a bad omen, as the Indian duo failed to get any momentum going and crashed out tamely 4-6, 6-7(8).
It could have all been so different though. The oft-feuding teammates started the match brightly, going up a break for a 3-2 lead in the first set. Although they were broken back immediately, they again went on the attack for another break lead, this time putting themselves in position to serve at 4-3. That was to be the last game they would win in the set though, as Matkowski and Kubot decided to kick it up a notch.
They broke the Indian duo twice in succession – thrice in total during the set – to take the opener 6-4. All the momentum was with them now, and Paes’ hopes of putting up a grandstand showing in his record 7th Olympic appearance seemed to be hanging by a thread.
The second set was a lot more sedate, with each pair holding comfortably until the 5-5 mark. It was then that the Indians made their move, ambushing the Poles to set up a break point, which they duly converted.
The set was in their hands now, and all they needed to do was hold serve to level the match. But Kubot and Matkowski were having none of it, as they immediately went up three break points, before sealing the break with some brilliant play.
In the tiebreaker Paes and Bopanna were on the backfoot right from the start, conceding a mini-break early to give the Poles a 3-1 lead. But the Indians fought back to make it 4-4, and then saved a match point at 5-6 to level the breaker.
That was the last point they would win though, as the Poles won two points in succession to take the set, and with it the match.
It was a sobering culmination of all the bad blood that Paes and Bopanna had displayed in the lead-up to this match. In hindsight, we shouldn’t be too surprised by the result; Paes and Bopanna barely practised together before the tournament, and their coordination was visibly off.
Bopanna still has the mixed doubles to look forward to, but for Paes this is likely his last time playing an Olympics match. It has been a superb career for the 1996 bronze medallist, and while he would have liked to go out on a better note, no one can deny his contributions to his country.