WE REALLY COMPLEMENT EACH OTHER — PAES

The US Open title ensured Paes and Damm a place in the season-ending World Doubles Championship to be played in Shanghai.

Leander Paes jumped into the arms of his doubles partner Martin Damm to celebrate a memorable triumph at the US Open. The overflowing emotion was understandable as a Grand Slam men's doubles title had eluded him for five years.

It was his fourth Grand Slam men's doubles title, and the first with someone other than Mahesh Bhupathi, with whom he had won the French Open in 1999 and 2001 and the Wimbledon in 1999 — a fabulous year when the duo made the finals of all the four Grand Slam events.

It was also Paes' seventh Grand Slam title overall, including the three mixed doubles titles.

Paes and Martina Navratilova won the mixed doubles titles at the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2003. With David Rikl, he soldiered on to the finals of the US Open in 2004. In early 2006, he and Damm made it to the final of the Australian Open.

It was indeed a brave effort at the climax as Paes and Damm were looking down the barrel, a break down in the second set. They lost the first set against second-seeded Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden and Max Mirnyi of Belarus, the reigning French Open champions, who were serving 40-0. Eventually, the Indo-Canadian combination won 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-3, triggering a round of applause from the crowd. "As the match wore on in that third set, especially with all the Indians there, they kind of gave me the energy and the spirit that we really needed to drive through. And especially that 3-all game in the third set. I was struggling a bit on my serve. We were down love-30 already. Coming in for a second serve, my mind was playing games asking, should I go for a big one wide, or should I send it kicking in? I then felt, let's go for it", Paes said.

Damm, 34, was quite thrilled to win his maiden Grand Slam doubles title and appreciated the splendid support of the crowd.

"I was just telling Leander that, right now, I can't change partner because if I play with some German guy or Italian guy, there will be nobody cheering for me. Every place we go in the world, there are hundreds and thousands of Indians supporting us. It's just great," said Damm, as he acknowledged the warmth of the Indian fans.

On his part, Paes expressed his gratitude to Damm for the wonderful year, a season in which the two had made the Wimbledon semifinals and the Australian Open final apart from winning the title at s'Hertogenbosch.

"This partnership that we've got is 12 months old. I don't think there are enough words to express how much fun and how much learning I have actually had playing with Martin, because we are actually opposites on the court. Martin is strong and plays more solid. I am more flashy and a bit more quick. We really complement each other. It has been a fantastic year playing with him. I have really enjoyed it. I would like to thank him for a wonderful year," Paes said.

It was perhaps the excellent communication and understanding that helped Paes and Damm save as many as five match points in a challenging semifinal against the fourth seeds, Paul Hanley of Australia and Kevin Ullyett of Zimbabwe.

The US Open title ensured Paes and Damm a place in the season-ending World Doubles Championship to be played in Shanghai.

"It is not the first time for us, but it's the first time for us as a team. I am personally looking forward to Shanghai big-time because I heard it is a great event. Leander made the finals last year with Nenad (Zimonjic), and I was watching it on the Tennis Channel. I actually spent a few bucks to get my Tennis Channel in my home. I paid like $60 for it. The show they put up, it was just worth it," said Damm.

Having been in three finals of the World Doubles Championship, Paes said that he was positive about winning it. "I don't think there is any reason why we cannot win that final, the coveted Masters Cup," said Paes, who has 36 doubles titles on the Tour.

"I think the roof on the limit of our partnership was taken off today, because the biggest thing that we had to have was the belief that we could win. We have got a lot of the strokes, the physical stuff, and the experience in our combined ages. It is just about staying healthy, staying fit. I think the next year, we can win more Grand Slam events," said the 33-year-old Paes, who obviously would be focussing on his fifth Asian Games in Doha in December, before getting ready for the next season.

The road to the US Open trophy

First round: bt Petr Pala and Robin Vik (Cze) 6-1, 6-2.

Second round: bt Aleander Peya (Aut) and Bjorn Phau (Ger) 6-3, 7-6 (4).

Pre-quarterfinals: bt Jarkko Nieminen (Fin) and Graydon Oliver (US) 6-4, 6-2.

Quarterfinals: bt Leos Friedl (Cze) and Mikhail Youzhny (Rus) 6-4, 4-6, 6-1.

Semifinals: bt Paul Hanley (Aus) and Kevin Ullyett (Zim) 6-7 (1), 7-6 (7), 7-5.

Final: bt Jonas Bjorkman (Swe) and Max Mirnyi (Blr) 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-3.

Kamesh Srinivasan