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Rio Olympics 2016, Tennis: Indians face tough battles in Round 1

What is in store for India at Rio 2016 in the tennis draws?

Paes Bopanna 2016
The pair are said to have
‘issues’ with each other – could this stop them from medaling at Rio?

The Rio 2016 Olympic Games are now underway, and the first draws have been revealed. It has emerged that Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna, who have played a Davis Cup doubles rubber together this year, will face the Polish pair of Marcin Matkowski and Lukasz Kubot in their first-round match at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Interestingly, Matkowski and Paes have a close professional association. 35-year-old Matkowski first partnered Paes in 2014, and that year was successful for the two, who played with a 6/2 win loss record.

The pair have even won a title together, at the 2014 Malaysia Open in the capital, Kuala Lumpur – and they had difficult opponents then in the form of John Peers and Jamie Murray. That was the pair’s best ever tournament finish.

Matkowski favours clay and hard courts – he has been the finalist at four clay court doubles events, winning two, accompanied on both occasions by compatriot Mariusz Fyrstenberg.

Currently ranked 27th on the ATP circuit, Matkowski will be accompanied by the 25th-ranked Lukasz Kubot. 34-year-old Kubot is a former top-10 doubles player, and in 2014 won his first – and so far only – Grand Slam title, playing with Swedish ace Robert Lindstedt.

Kubot had a strong outing at this year’s French Open, finishing in the semi-finals with partner Alexander Peya of Austria. Also a former top-50 singles player, he finished at the quarter-finals of the men’s singles in Wimbledon in 2014.

He also finished as the runner-up at an ATP Masters event – the clay court Rome Masters in 2012, and the pair’s skill across varied surfaces will buoy the Polish team. The two have also had success very recently on the ATP Circuit – at Portugal’s Estoril Open, finishing runners-up at that event.

India are no slouches either – Leander Paes is not only the country’s greatest tennis player but considered one of the best doubles exponents in the sport. The owner of 17 Grand Slam doubles titles, Paes has played – and had success – with a variety of partners across surfaces.

Partner Bopanna, who has considerably less experience on the professional circuit, has also proven to be a very strong doubles player. The 38-year-old entered the Olympic draw as a result of his top 10 ATP ranking after a fair bit of success with partner Florin Mergea of Romania.

55th-ranked Paes is playing his seventh Olympic games, and has even won an Olympic medal – at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, where he won bronze in the singles.

The former World No. 1 is an experienced campaigner on the Olympic circuit and will not see the teething troubles that many others face.

Paes and Bopanna have been doubles partners before, but this year have played one match together on the professional circuit, representing India against South Korea at the Davis Cup rubber in Chandigarh. Although they won that match, there is still major concern with regard to the doubles pair.

There has been serious speculation in the media that the pair do not see eye-to-eye, leading to intense friction between the two. In an interview with Sportskeeda, Bopanna denied these claims, saying that the two were “working professionals representing the country.”

Now, however, those claims have re-emerged and gained full steam, with several sources claiming that Paes, who arrived late to the Olympic village after the World Team Tennis tournament in the USA, has refused to share accommodation with Bopanna.

Paes alleged in an interview that he was not given accommodation, an issue that has not yet been addressed by either the International Olympic Committee or the Indian Olympic Association, although Paes has allegedly claimed that the Association were informed in advance of his desire not to share a room with Bopanna.

The Indian men’s doubles side do not lack in experience, and on paper are the definitively stronger side at the tie. However, the pair in question appear to have a friction that could prevent their talent from translating into Olympic success.

Mirza, Thombare also face an uphill task

Women’s doubles No. 1 Sania Mirza is yet to taste Olympic success, but has a bronze medal at the Asian Games in Incheon, 2014 with her partner at Rio, Prarthana Thombare. Partnered by former singles World No. 1 Martina Hingis, with whom she shares the top doubles ranking, Mirza has seen a purple patch in her career, winning several Grand Slam and WTA titles.

The two will now face the Chinese combine of Shuai Peng and Shuai Zhang in the first round. While Thombare and Mirza are a relatively new pair – and have not played together on the professional circuit in some time, Peng and Zhang this year played together at Wimbledon, bowing out in the second round to Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic, who were fresh off a French Open victory.

Although Mirza is widely considered one of the best women’s doubles players on the current circuit, the Indian has not had a good outing on the professional circuit of late, having crashed out before the semi-finals in the last five tournaments she has played.

It will be a difficult one for both the men’s and women’s pairs representing India, albeit for possibly different reasons.

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