Leander turns the clock back

Indian tennis players, led by Leander Paes, and the shooters reeled in remarkable performances in the year that rolled by. A recap by Kamesh Srinivasan.

The year 2013 was a memorable one for India in tennis and shooting. Leander Paes showed that he was serious about being in shape for the 2016 Olympics in Rio, as he won the U.S. Open doubles title with Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic. It was Paes’ eighth Grand Slam doubles title and 14th overall (he has six mixed doubles titles too). The victory also put the Indian’s individual doubles title collection on the professional tour at 53.

At 40, Paes was so inspiring on the court that his Czech partner Stepanek, who himself had missed most of the season owing to a back surgery, announced that his mission was to win the World doubles title and add to the rich collection of the Atlanta Olympics bronze medal winner.

However, this was not to be, as Paes and Stepanek, who had missed a match point in the semi-finals of the season-ending championship in London against Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna in 2012, failed to capitalise on a good start and did not make it to the last four from the league stage in 2013.

If Paes continued to lead Indian tennis on the world stage, Bopanna showed that he is ready to win his maiden Grand Slam doubles title as he attained a career-best rank of No. 3 despite not having a regular partner the whole season. He played a few events with Mahesh, who had announced that he was in the twilight of his career.

The way Bopanna and his partner, Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France, played against the all-conquering Bryan twins, Bob and Mike of the United States, in the semi-finals of Wimbledon, it looked as if the duo would make a mark despite playing in only a few events towards the end of the season. However, they had to be content with their only title in Tokyo.

By deciding to team up again with Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi of Pakistan in 2014, Bopanna has ensured that he would have to take a good shot at the elusive Grand Slam title in 2014.

Divij Sharan and Purav Raja showed promise as a doubles pair by winning a Tour title at Bogota, Colombia, apart from qualifying for Wimbledon. Divij, who could not make the cut with Purav, entered the third round of the U.S. Open with Yen Hsun Lu of Chinese Taipei.

Sania Mirza returned with a strong performance, winning five doubles titles — the best by anyone the whole season. She wound up the season in a remarkable manner, winning two big titles with Cara Black of Zimbabwe. Staying healthy and fit was the key.

Indian tennis also saw Yuki Bhambri graduate to the Challenger level by winning one title and reaching the final of another $125,000 event as a qualifier. The flexibility he showed in playing the doubles too with considerable success should make it that much easy for the selectors when they pick the team for the Davis Cup this year.

Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, who performed well in some tournaments in Africa, was the third best Indian after Somdev Devvarman and Yuki on the ATP computer. Of course, it was a fantastic year for Somdev, as the gold medal winner at the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games bounced back into the top-100 after enduring a difficult phase when he was recovering from a shoulder surgery.

Indian shooting witnessed some sparkling performances, mainly from the women. While Rahi Sarnobat won the World Cup gold in sports pistol in Changwon, Korea, Heena Sidhu took everyone’s breath away by capturing the gold in the World Cup Final in Munich, beating the World Champion, Zorana Arunovic of Serbia, with a 5.2-point margin.

Rahi Sarnobat with the Gold medal she won at the World Cup in Changwon, Korea.-VIVEK BENDRE

Both Rahi and Heena, in their early 20s, had competed in the London Games. The seasoned coach, Anatolii Piddubnyi, has trained them. The shooters have been getting the desired support from various quarters, including the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI), so much so that the future looks to be in good hands, especially in terms of India pursuing its dream of adding to the Olympic medals won by Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Abhinav Bindra, Vijay Kumar and Gagan Narang. There were also other sparkling performances. The 25-year-old Lajja Gauswami won the silver in women’s rifle 3-position event in the World Cup in Granada, Spain, while Prakash Nanjappa won the men’s air pistol bronze at the Changwon World Cup.

It was a commendable fare as Prakash, 37, overcame spells of uncertainty — he suffered Bell’s palsy — to win the free pistol silver. He was placed fourth in air pistol in the Asian Championship in Tehran. He missed the gold by 0.3 point to Mai Jiajie of China.

Heena Sindhu who took everyone's breath away by capturing the gold in the World Cup final in Munich, beating the World champion, Zorana Arunovic of Serbia, with a 5.23-point margin.-SANDEEP SAXENA

Former world champion Manavjit Singh Sandhu’s reign as the Asian champion ended when he had to settle for the bronze in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Yet, it was a brilliant fare as he topped the qualification with a record 124 out of 125. He lost the right to battle for gold by one bird.

There were many other impressive performances, like Olympian Sanjeev Rajput adding the rifle prone gold to his collection from the Asian Championship (the 3-position gold he had won in 2012), which showed that the future of Indian shooting is bright.