Rio Olympics 2016, Tennis: Will Bopanna and Mirza win India's first Rio medal tonight?
It’s time for the bronze medal match. Last night, fourth seeded Indians Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna tumbled after a super tie break to the American pair of Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram, who will themselves play compatriots Jack Sock and Bethanie Mattek-Sands for mixed doubles gold. But the Indian pair has another chance for medal glory, in the form of the 3rd place playoff.
Interesting factoid here – Bethanie Mattek-Sands is a former doubles partner of Sania Mirza, whom she partnered on the WTA circuit before Mirza paired with Hingis. Yesterday, Mattek-Sands and Sock, a relatively new doubles pairing, blazed past the powerful Grand Slam winning Czech combine of Lucie Hradecka and Radek Stepanek, who have four Grand Slam titles to their name.
That said, Sock has been in form lately. Although he crashed out early in the singles, Sock and partner Steve Johnson performed very well in the doubles, finishing in third place with the bronze medal – Sock’s first Olympic honour. He will take his second today – but whether that will be gold or silver remains to be seen.
Both Bopanna and Mirza started off in fine nick yesterday but began to choke at crucial moments, unable to hold their serve consistently despite a strong beginning. They were also let down by unforced errors, and it was perhaps experimentation in the tie breaker that lost them the TB – and the match.
The Indians have said they have pinpointed their weaknesses, and are looking to improve on them going into tonight’s draw. If they do win, they will bring home India’s first medal at Rio 2016, and the country’s first ever mixed doubles tennis medal.
Should they win, this will be India’s second bronze medal in tennis – the first coming from Leander Paes, who won singles bronze at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, with Andre Agassi winning gold that year.
Bopanna has met Stepanek before on the professional circuit in the doubles – Stepanek partnered by Grand Slam winner Daniel Nestor of Canada, and Bopanna with his current partner, Florin Mergea of Romania. Mergea himself finished with a silver in the men’s doubles with compatriot Horia Tecau.
Their only match this year ended in defeat for Bopanna and Mergea, with the Indo-Romanian combine beaten in three sets, but Bopanna will take heart from the fact that it was a very closely-fought match.
Mirza on her part has also played Hradecka on the professional circuit; she and partner Martina Hingis played the Czech and her partner, Andrea Hlavackova, at the year-end WTA Finals in Singapore last year and beat them thoroughly.
Poignantly, this year’s WTA Finals will be the last time Mirza and Hingis pair with each other professionally – although the two will play with their new doubles partners – Barbora Strycova and Coco Vandeweghe – respectively at the US Open.
It’s looking like the Indians could win today, but it will not be an easy battle for the pair. Stepanek is a master of volleying, and has been known for making even the best singles players struggle to pass him at the net. Hradecka, meanwhile, can match Sania’s power from the baseline, and has solid groundstrokes off both wings.
This could possibly go to a deciding set tonight, and staying mentally tough in the face of pressure will be key. Whoever holds their nerve better will likely come off victorious, which means it’s a tough match to call. But we are predicting Sania and Bopanna will come through – they will want to put the disappointment of the semifinal behind them quickly, and they have the perfect opportunity to do so against Stepanek and Hradecka.