Will the top stars deliver?

Sania Mirza and Leander Paes...a formidable combination.-R. RAGU

India stands a good chance of winning a medal or two in the doubles. Over to Kamesh Srinivasan.

It was on a wild card that Leander Paes won the singles bronze medal behind Grand Slam champions Andre Agassi and Sergi Bruguera in the Atlanta Games in 1996.

Yet again, India may have to depend on a wild card entrant to win a medal in the London Games.

Sania Mirza was understandably upset the way the national federation handled the issue, while selecting the team for the Olympics. She is, no doubt, a key player in the mixed doubles team.

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi might have climbed quite a few peaks in their brilliant career as a doubles pair, but despite being the No.1 team, an Olympic medal has eluded them in four Games from Atlanta to Beijing.

It was difficult to digest for many when Bhupathi insisted on partnering Rohan Bopanna (Bhupathi stuck to his principles rather than the aspiration of winning an Olympic medal). He could have enjoyed the best of both the worlds, by joining hands with Paes in the men’s doubles and Sania in the mixed doubles. Bhupathi and Sania had won two Grand Slam titles in Melbourne and Paris, and the second was just a month before the Olympics.

Sania, at No. 12, needed a wild card entry (only the top 10 in the world doubles rankings qualify directly). One has to be part of the singles or doubles draws to be eligible to play in the mixed event. She may not be able to set the grass on fire with Rushmi Chakravarthi in women’s doubles, but Sania and Paes are formidable mixed doubles combination.

Bhupathi and Bopanna will be charged up to show the world that they were not fighting, to compete together, for nothing!

Somdev Devvarman, with three gold medals from the Commonwealth and Asian Games, was lucky to get a wild card. In the singles it will be very tough for Somdev, who has not played tennis for more than seven months due to a shoulder injury. The country’s No.1 singles player Yuki Bhambri, who was world No. 1 junior and the Youth Olympics runner-up, deserved to be in London. Perhaps his comments in the media spoilt his chances. It may be difficult for Paes to work a magic with Vishnu Vardhan in the men’s doubles. Vishnu has not had the experience at the higher level of the game, though he did win the mixed doubles silver with Sania in the last Asian Games .

But with Paes as his partner Vishnu can look forward with confidence. Ramesh Krishnan and Paes came close to winning a medal in the 1992 Barcelona Games — the duo lost in the quarterfinals.

Indian tennis is bitter-sweet. It is bitter at the beginning and is bound to taste sweet in the end!