Rio Olympics 2016, Tennis: Revisiting India's previous appearances at a bronze medal play-off
A few hours ago, India faced another heartbreak at Rio Olympics 2016 when the duo of Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna exited the mixed doubles tournament after losing to the American pair of Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram. Mirza and Bopanna had made a brilliant start to the match and after winning the first set, were looking in a good position to win the match.
However, some costly errors and Venus Williams’ brilliance won the match for the US pair. However, the hopes of a medal are still alive with Mirza and Bopanna having to play with the Czech pair of Lucie Hradecka and Radek Stepanek for the bronze medal tonight.
Both Czech players are pretty accomplished players at the doubles circuit with Hradecka having won three Grand Slams and the silver medal at the Women’s double tournament at the London games while Stepanek having won two Grand Slams, both of them with Leander Paes.
Nevertheless, it’s going to be a pretty intense match and a tough test for the Indians. This will be the third time that India is featuring in a bronze medal match of a tennis tournament at the Olympics. India has previously played twice in the bronze medal match, once at the singles tournament in 1996 and the second time at the doubles tournament in 2004.
With only a few hours to spare, before Mirza-Bopanna take on Hradecka-Stepanek in the bronze medal play-off, let’s take a look at how Indians have fared on their previous two outings in a bronze medal match.
#1 Leander Paes vs Fernando Meligeni, 1996 Atlanta Olympics
India’s lone medal at the Atlanta Olympics was won by Leander Paes, thus ending a 44-year old wait for an individual medal at the Olympics. Paes who had reached the quarter-finals at the Men’s Doubles event at the Barcelona Olympics four years ago, was given a wild card entry into the singles tournament and was considered an outsider.
Paes began his tournament with a win over 11th seeded American Richy Reneberg before beating Venezuelan Nicolas Pereira in straight sets to set up a match against third seed and future Australian Open finalist Thomas Enqvist.
Paes scripted one of THE upsets of the tournament by beating Enqvist in straight sets and later beat 14th seeded Italian Renzo Furlan to reach the semi-finals. Paes was up against top seed Andre Agassi in the semis and lost 7-6, 6-3 to set up a bronze medal match against Brazilian Fernando Meligeni.
Meligeni won the first set 6-3 but Paes fought back and won the next two sets 6-2, 6-4 to clinch the bronze medal. Paes’ performance at Atlanta has been one of the most inspiring performances by an Indian sportsman at the Olympics and since his bronze medal, India has so far never come back from the Olympics without winning an individual medal.
#2 Paes/Bhupathi vs Ancic/Ljubicic, 2004 Athens Olympics
India’s second appearance at a bronze medal match at a tennis tournament again features Leander Paes, this time with his longtime Doubles partner Mahesh Bhupathi at the Athens Games in 2004. Paes and Bhupathi were teaming up for the second time in the Olympics, having teamed up at the Sydney Games as well.
The fifth seeded Indian pair started off with a straight-set win over the American pair of Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish. They then beat the Swiss pair of Roger Federer and Yves Allegro to reach the quarter-finals where they beat the fourth seeds Wayne Black and Kevin Ullyett of Zimbabwe to set up a semi-final encounter against the German pair of Nicolas Keifer and Rainer Schuttler.
Lee-Hesh were beaten in straight sets and would now face the Croatian pair of Mario Ancic and Ivan Ljubicic in the bronze medal play-off.
The Croats won the first set in a tie-break before Paes and Bhupathi fought back to take the second set 6-4. The final set was quite exciting with Paes and Bhupathi having match point at a time but in the end, the Croatian pair took home the bronze, winning the final set 15-13. This is so far Leander Paes’ best outing at the Doubles tournament in the Olympics.