Fresh off a strong win against British No. 1s Andy Murray and Heather Watson, Indian fourth seeds Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna continue to keep India’s hopes of a medal in tennis alive as they take on the All-American combine of Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram tonight.
The older Williams sister, a five-time Wimbledon champion, has enjoyed a resurgence of late after a few low years on the circuit. 36-year-old Venus was diagnosed a few years ago with Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that causes joint pain, fatigue and would otherwise seriously impair anyone in or out of professional sport.
Despite this, Venus, the oldest player in this year’s Wimbledon draw – male or female – put in one strong performance after another to progress to the semi-finals. Her juggernaut was only ended eventually by 2016 Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber.
Venus and younger sister, World No. 1 Serena, also together won the women’s doubles title there. The two are among the most decorated Olympic tennis players in history, with Serena considered one of the greatest exponents of all time in the sport.
Although Venus had an early singles exit at Rio 2016, ousted in a shock upset by Belgian Kirsten Flipkens, she has been in strong form, returning to the women’s top 10 rankings in 2015 after a number of years struggling in the mid-tier.
The sisters crashed out of the women’s doubles at Rio 2016, with Serena seeing a third round singles exit at the hands of Ukrainian Elina Svitolina.
Venus and Rajeev Ram have not played together as a mixed doubles pair outside of the Olympic Games. Doubles specialist Ram, who plays with South Africa’s Raven Klaasen on the ATP Tour, is currently at an all-time high ATP doubles ranking of 22. The pair’s most recent title came at the grass court Gerry Weber Open in Halle, Germany, where they beat the Polish-Austrian pair of Lukasz Kubot and Alexander Peya in straight sets.
A noted exponent in both singles and doubles, Venus’ pairing with Ram could pay off – the 32-year-old reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon this year with Klaasen, also finishing at the semi-final stage of the US Open in 2014.
Ram’s game has often been compared to that of the hugely successful Pete Sampras, on whom the Colorado-born Ram has based his game. How strong that will stand him remains to be seen, however, given Sampras’ pet surface was grass and his game has become somewhat outdated in the modern context of play, one that has become largely baseline-oriented.
The American pair had a close call against Italian powerhouse pair Fabio Fognini and Roberta Vinci; Fognini troubled Andy Murray in the pair's match earlier this week, even scalping a set off the defending Olympic champion as he threatened to put paid to his chances at Rio 2016.
Vinci, meanwhile, is a noted exponent of the doubles, and even has a career Grand Slam to her name.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Williams and Ram yesterday, with the pair taxed somewhat in the second set as they eventually took a straight sets, 6-3, 7-5 victory. They could likely have won that by an even wider margin, but Fognini and Vinci, trailing 1-4 in the second set, staged a mammoth comeback to take the scores to 4-4 before eventually going down.
Mirza and Bopanna faltered to begin their own match against the combine of the British No. 1s, but quickly found their footing after getting broken early on in the match. Mirza then brought out her powerful forehand, with Bopanna playing a brilliant game at the net to take the Indians to their own straight sets win.
Based on current form, it looks like the Indian pair should cruise to the finals. Venus has been up-and-down this tournament and would likely be fatigued after playing so many matches already this week, while Sania and Bopanna are completely fresh – having played just three matches in total so far (two in mixed doubles and one each in doubles).
The USA could ptentially trouble the Indians yet again should they win today, with Jack Sock and Mirza’s former doubles partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands having made the semi-finals with a victory over Brazil’s home aces Marcelo Melo and Teliana Pereira. Sock and Mattek-Sands will be up against the power-hitting Czech pair of Lucie Hradecka and Radek Stepanek – amongst the best in the women’s and men’s doubles – in the other semifinal today.
The final draw in the mixed doubles looks to be a very interesting one, and even if Mirza and Bopanna do miss out on a finals place, they are still one match away from winning an Olympic medal, as they would still be in contention for the bronze.
It looks as though the Indian combine will see themselves through to the finals tonight though, and you can bet scores of the country’s fans will be cheering them on as they take the court. The match is scheduled to begin at 12.30 AM tonight, and will likely be telecast on Star Sports and DD Sports.