The much-awaited mixed doubles draw of the Rio Olympics 2016 has been released and India’s only pair of Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna has been seeded fourth in the 16-team event. They are scheduled to begin their campaign against the Australian pair of John Peers and Samantha Stosur.
Here's a detailed analysis of the Indian pair's medal chances:
Both the Australians have vast experience in doubles, but considering their recent results, the Indian duo should not have too much of a headache. While Peers has never progressed beyond the quarter-finals in any mixed doubles competition at the Slams, Stosur’s last mixed doubles title glory came at Wimbledon two years ago.
Since then, Mirza has gone on to add the US Open mixed doubles crown to her 2009 Australian Open and 2012 French Open titles. Bopanna is no slouch either, having made it as far as the quarter-finals of all four Slams, which includes the Australian Open this year.
Going by their doubles record, the Indians should find themselves in the next round which is the quarter-finals.
The next round can present an interesting challenge for Bopanna. His usual doubles partner on the circuit, Florin Mergea of Romania can meet him in the last-eight stage. Mergea’s mixed doubles partner is Monica Niculescu, who is proficient in singles but showed her prowess in doubles just a few days back at the Rogers Cup. Her unorthodox shots can trouble the very best and Mergea-Niculescu can definitely give a hard time to the Indians.
Despite the threat, if Bopanna and Mirza can get their serve and forehand working respectively, they can overcome this pair and book their berth in the semi-finals.
It is the semi-finals, where the draw gets relatively tougher with the Indians’ potential rivals being the second seeds Kristina Mladenovic and Pierre-Hugues Herbert of France. Both the French players have multiple doubles Grand Slams already and their latest Slam success came this year – for Herbert it was the Wimbledon men’s doubles crown while for Mladenovic, it was the women’s doubles title at the French Open.
Suffice to say, they know what it takes to win. But here’s where Mirza’s experience should come in handy. The Indian, alongside Ivan Dodig, faced this very French pair at the French Open this year and beat them narrowly in the semi-finals. If the 29-year-old Indian can look back at that performance, she might inspire herself as well as Bopanna to surmount this barrier, no matter how difficult it looks now.
If they can cross that hurdle, the final should ideally put them opposite another French pair – the top-seeded team of Nicolas Mahut and Caroline Garcia. Mahut and Garcia are the other halves of the teams that won the aforementioned Wimbledon men’s doubles and the French Open women’s doubles titles. That itself should indicate what an uphill task it can be for Bopanna and Mirza.
Furthermore, both Garcia and Mahut were the strong favourites for the gold in their respective doubles categories at Rio but both shockingly slumped to defeats in their opening rounds. Both would thus be doubly determined not to miss this last opportunity.
Mirza and Bopanna will have to be at their immaculate best to beat this pair if they have their eyes set on the gold medal.
Note: The losing semi-finalists will have to play each other for a chance to get the bronze medal. So, even if Mirza and Bopanna slip in the last-four stage, they will still get one more much-desired chance to secure a medal for India in tennis.