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US Open 2013: Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek earn glory by clinching men's doubles title

Anand Datla
FEATURED COLUMNIST
08 Sep 2013, 23:47 IST

At 40, an ordinary tennis player would probably be pursuing a career in broadcasting and indulging in a bit of exhibition tennis on the senior circuit. Not Leander Paes, who joined forces with Radek Stepanek to complete an unlikely fortnight, notching back-to-back victories over the top two doubles teams in the world to clinch their first US Open together. The fourth seeds proved far too superior for the second-seeded pair of Alexander Peya and Bruno Saores, who succumbed to a rather tame 6-1, 6-3 defeat in just an hour and 12 minutes. The victory marked the first US Open doubles title for the Czech player, while it was the third with three different partners for the Indian.

Paes and Stepanek got their partnership off to a blistering start when they won the Australian Open last year. They were also in the finals of the US Open last year, where they lost to the Bryan brothers. Some of that pain may have been avenged on Friday when the fourth seeds eliminated the Bryans in the semifinals and denied them a shot at the Grand Slam.

Heading into the finals, Leander had thirteen doubles titles on his resume – seven in the men’s doubles and six in the mixed doubles events. On the other hand, Peya-Soares had never reached a men’s doubles final before the US Open this year. Soares did win the mixed doubles title at the US Open last year with Ekaterina Makarova and finished runner-up at Wimbledon this year with Lisa Raymond.

Stepanek began the match with a difficult hold after being forced to survive deuce and a break point. But the fourth seeded Indo-Czech combination asserted themselves by breaking the Soares serve at love in the next game. Paes was then tentative with his service game, but managed to hold despite a double fault, to take a 3-0 lead.

Peya and Soares took another stride backwards when Peya emulated his teammate to be broken at love in the fourth game. Almost to pattern, this time it was Stepanek who threw in a double fault but still managed to hold serve and take the fifth game. At 5-0, Paes-Stepanek had won 21 of the 27 points.

Soares sent in the first ace of the match in the sixth game as he earned three game points to finally get the second seeds on the scoreboard. A fabulous backhand volley from Stepanek notwithstanding, Soares held with ease to ensure Paes had to serve to win the first set.

A soft lob from Soares at the net ended floating too far to give Paes-Stepanek two set points, and they clinched it on the next point.

Peya made a disastrous start to the second set when he gifted a double fault to offer the break on a platter to his opponents. It was another break at love for Paes-Stepanek, who were completely dominating the show. But in the very next game, Paes struggled to get his first serve in play and Peya-Soares kept it tight at 30-30. Eager to put the game to bed, the Indian then snatched a Stepanek play, only to dump the backhand volley into the net to offer a break point.

But the experience of Paes shone through as he drew his best serves of the match to win three points in a row and avert the break of serve. Matters then threatened to get out of hand for Peya-Soares when Stepanek struck a brilliant forehand winner from the back of the court to earn two break points in the third game. Soares saved both break points, only to make a double fault and offer another to Paes-Stepanek.

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As the game stretched to a fifth deuce, they had already played nearly ten minutes to decide this crucial game of the second set. The 31-year-old Brazilian squandered another game point to bring up deuce #6. Finally, Peya-Soares managed to hold with the help of a forehand error from Stepanek to stay within reach at 1-2.

Serving at 1-3, 30-15 Peya developed a back spasm and was forced to call a trainer on court. When they returned to play, the 33-year-old was clearly struggling to serve with any sort of power. Despite that, the spirited Austrian managed to survive a deuce point and hold serve. Paes, though, focused on his game to serve well and hold at love to gain a 4-2 advantage.

Soares squandered game points in the seventh game to allow Paes-Stepanek to force deuce, but nothing could prevent the Brazilian from holding serve. He was doing an excellent job covering for his relatively immobile teammate to ensure that they remained close at 3-4. Stepanek held the next game with ease to get his team within a game of their second doubles title.

With Peya serving to keep his team in the match, Paes struck a sweetly timed backhand return to earn match point. The Indian ensured there was no further delay as he made a typically sharp move at the net to split Peya-Soares with a volley winner and clinch his eighth Grand Slam doubles crown overall, and second with Stepanek.

Paes-Stepanek were rewarded with a polished silver bowl and a cheque for $460,000 for going one better than last year. On the other hand, Peya-Soares ended up tasting defeat in their maiden appearance in a Grand Slam final.

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