Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza won the opening leg of the Masters Tennis prevailing 7-5, 7-5 but the vanquished pair of Martina Navratilova and Leader Paes stole the show, rekindling memories of their partnership that reached legendary proportions in mixed doubles.
Navratilova, one of the most successful players in women’s tennis, brought alive the energy and the passion which the gathering here at the Netaji Indoor Stadium on Wednesday had previously experienced through newspapers and television.
Age no bar for Navaratilova
Making her first visit to the city, the 59-year-old tennis icon showed little signs of ageing and competed with her trademark gusto against players many years younger to her.
Sania, aged 29 and the reigning world No. 1 women’s doubles player, paid her tribute to Martina saying, “It is a great honour to be standing here with someone who has achieved everything in tennis.”
Despite toning down her aggression apparently in a show of respect to the presence of a legend, Sania essayed some of her typical forehand returns while acceding to the demands a group her young fans who kept chanting her name.
“I have always loved to play doubles as it gives you the scope to talk to someone. If you talk to yourself in singles, it looks funny but in doubles it is quite enjoyable,” Martina, the owner of the 18 Grand Slam titles and a record 167 WTA singles titles said.
The highlight of the match definitely was Martina’s confidence and her gait that seemed to have remained undiminished irrespective of her age. “I have been blessed with a good body and I love tennis a lot and the passion for it keeps me going,” said Martina on being asked about the secret of her energy.
“I had a surgery on one of my toes, that is only area that hurts sometimes but I am fine otherwise,” said the player who aggregated a success rate of 86.8 percent in a singles career record winning 1442 singles matches and losing just 219.
Had to leave my country for tennis: Navaratilova
“From the age of five till I turned 18, I sacrificed nothing and had a great childhood but after that when I had to leave my country, I had to sacrifice everything,” Martina said when he was asked about her regret in life.
“I regret leaving my country but I had to do it for my tennis career. Democracy finally came to Czech Republic but it came 15 years late for me,” the legend added insisting that her love for motherland continues unabated.
When asked to list the best moments in her tennis career, Martina said, “the first Wimbledon title in 1978 was definitely great and then the two mixed doubles titles with Leander in 2003 (Australian Open and Wimbledon) which I never expected to win but for him.”
Mrtina is one of the biggest legends of the game: Paes
Leander paid back the compliment by tuning up the appreciation for Martina. “Magic”, Leander said when asked to describe his former mixed doubles partner in one word. “Martina is the one of biggest legend of the game. She is not only a fantastic tennis player but the ambassador of humanity,” said the tennis ace from the city.
When he was asked about the sport’s future in the country, Leander said, “There is a lot of tennis happening in the country because of what we three (Leander, Mahesh and Sania) have achieved over the last few years. There is no reason why the Indian boys and girls can do even better, not only tennis but anywhere,” Leander said.
Sania also echoed her senior compatriot’s vision saying, “In the next four or five years, there will be a new group of good players who have the ability to take success to a new level.”