'I am over the moon'

KAMESH SRINIVASAN

"IT is sinking in now and I am over the moon. It has been a rollercoaster year emotionally and it has come around well. I just focused on playing good tennis and keeping my head up," said Mahesh Bhupathi speaking to The Sportstar from New York, after the U.S. Open doubles triumph with Max Mirnyi.

The jubilation was understandable as it was the inability to come good in the Grand Slams that had forced Mahesh to take a hard stand and break the partnership with his long-time partner Leander Paes, with whom he had won 22 titles.

Max Mirnyi and Mahesh Bhupathi with the US Open doubles trophy.-AFP

It has indeed been a season of suspense, but the experiments have proved good in the form of five titles from eight finals, though two of the titles have been with Leander. Mahesh had also made it to three semifinals and three quarterfinals. Not a bad record from 22 tournaments.

A Grand Slam title is indeed big, and it was a great feeling for the 28-year-old Mahesh, despite the fact that it was his seventh Grand Slam title, including the three mixed doubles titles at the French, US Open and Wimbledon. He had won two French Open and a Wimbledon title with Leander.

Playing two matches twice, and coming through the last three matches in three sets each, including the thriller in the quarterfinals when Mahesh and Mirnyi saved four matchpoints to beat Wayne Black and Kevin Ullyett called for a lot of guts, especially in the light of the fact that the Belarussian was exhausted after his efforts in singles.

"I think it was pure will power on his part and my mom's prayers," said Mahesh, as he acknowledged the commitment shown by Mirnyi and tried to underplay his part.

The duo had lost three finals earlier in eight tournaments after striking a deal to play together in April.

"We have been working hard together and slowly but surely got better and made the big break through here. We lost close matches in the finals, and it was just a matter of time before we won our first title together", said Mahesh, who had also won two titles with Jan Michael Gambill and Mike Bryan of the US this season.

"We have known each other for a long time, and we started to play our Tour around the same time. We had good results in general, and we have tried to stay positive and work hard through many ups and downs. No matter how good you play, there are always let downs. It is a matter of how fast you come out of it, how well you support each other. I think we do that very well for one another. That is why we are having a good year so far", said Mirnyi in the post match media conference. He is sure to figure in the World Doubles championship with Mahesh.

In fact, Mahesh had also played with Jeff Tarango, Brian Macphie and Todd Woodbridge in four other tournaments. He has an overall doubles record of 53-17 for the season.

Coming after the second round loss in the Australian Open, the semifinals at the French and the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, it was a sweet note to wind up the Grand Slam circuit for Mahesh. Of course, it was the second Grand Slam title for Mirnyi, following the one with Lleyton Hewitt at the U.S. Open in 2000.

Last year, Leander and Mahesh had won the French Open title, but had lost first round at the three other Grand Slam tournaments.

Leander had also made it to the French semifinals this season but has had a dismal season overall. Talking about the split, Leander had said that it was a selfish decision on the part of Mahesh, though he appreciated his partner's viewpoint, in an interview midway through the US Open.

"Everyone is entitled to their opinion. And every player has his ups and downs. Leander is a great doubles player and I am sure he will do well soon", said Mahesh, as he responded to the comment in a positive manner.

It should be a lively affair when Leander and Mahesh put their shoulders together for the gold medals in the Asian Games in Busan. There is a doubt about Mahesh playing the Davis Cup tie against Australia as the doctor has suggested that he rest his sore shoulder for some time.

"I need some time off for now. I have been nursing a sore shoulder for a few weeks which showed since I lost serve around four times in our last four matches", said Mahesh.

The strapping young man who will be returning home shortly, said that he was going for a second opinion.

"I need a couple of weeks off and if the second doctor says the same I will skip one of the two events. I would prefer to play Asiad since it comes once in four years, and we have a shot at the gold", said Mahesh.

The fact that Mark Philippoussis will not be there for Australia may be an advantage, but Mahesh observed that it would still be "very very tough", against the Aussies spearheaded by Hewitt in the World Group qualifying tie to be played in Adelaide.

It has been a fruitful season for Mahesh, and his share from the prize purse of $375,000 for the US Open doubles triumph should make his bank balance a lot more attractive. He had won $263,124 before the US triumph and his career earnings have crossed $2.6 million.

There is no time to count the dollars. It is time for Mahesh to celebrate and relax for some time, before taking up the national cause.