Wimbledon and the Leander-Mahesh breakthrough!

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi were the first Indians to bag a senior Wimbledon trophy. This came about in 1999 through the men’s doubles event. Many other doubles accolades have followed.

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi of India hold aloft their trophies after winning the men’s doubles title at the Wimbledon tennis championships on July 4, 1999.   -  GETTY IMAGES

Our champion doubles stars — Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza — have experienced what it feels to win the title at Wimbledon, the Mecca of tennis.

Maybe, this time, it is the turn of Rohan Bopanna, who joined the elite club by winning the French Open mixed doubles title with Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada!

Of course, Ramanathan Krishnan made it to the Wimbledon men’s singles semifinals twice before losing to the eventual champions, Neale Fraser (1960) and Rod Laver (1961).

But, the Indian romance with the Wimbledon trophies started in 1999, when Leander and Mahesh followed up on their maiden Grand Slam triumph in the French Open, by beating Paul Haarhuis of the Netherlands and Jared Palmer of the US, 6-7(10), 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(4) in the final.

It may be stupid to ask whether it was a dream realised.

“Honestly, no,” says Mahesh.

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Even as you grapple with the answer, he follows up, “It was a dream to play on centre court at Wimbledon, one day. Winning was beyond a dream.”

Such is the aura of Wimbledon, the grass court event steeped in history and tradition that it takes some guts to even dream about conquering it, even for the best of champions.

“Professionally, winning the Wimbledon final was the most memorable match in my life as far as doubles is concerned,’’ Mahesh said.

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The captain of the Davis Cup team now, Mahesh went on to win the Wimbledon mixed doubles titles with Elena Likhovtseva in 2002 and Mary Pierce in 2005.

The evergreen Leander who had won the fourth of his Wimbledon mixed doubles titles in 2015 with the Swiss Miss, Martina Hingis, played a clutch of matches at the climax in 1999 over the last two days, owing to wet weather, and bagged the mixed doubles trophy as well with Lisa Raymond. He won two more mixed titles at Wimbledon with Martina Navratilova and Cara Black.

Sania partnered Hingis in 2015 for the women’s doubles title in Wimbledon, 12 years after she had won the junior girls’ doubles title. For all her six Grand Slam titles, three in doubles and three in mixed, Sania is yet to get past the quarterfinals of mixed doubles in Wimbledon.

And so is the case of Bopanna, who made the mixed quarterfinals in 2013, and stretched further to the men’s doubles semifinals twice in 2013 and 2015.

Quite interestingly, Leander, Mahesh and Sania have had good times at Wimbledon as juniors. Leander won the junior singles title, and Mahesh had finished runner-up in boys’ doubles with Nitin Kirtane (now Nitten Kirrtane).

Sumit Nagal had won the Wimbledon junior doubles title with Nam Hoang Ly of Vietnam, as recently as in 2015. Sania had shot to fame in 2003 with the girls’ doubles trophy along with Alisa Kleybanova.

There will be four bright juniors this time in Wimbledon. Zeel Desai has been the best, as she reached the girls’ singles quarterfinals of the Australian Open this season. Mahak Jain has been slowly climbing the ladder, and has already made the finals of two international women’s events. Mihika Yadav did her confidence a world of good by winning the Asian junior singles title recently in Pune. Siddhant Banthia has been the lone warrior among the boys, even though Nitin Kumar Sinha did very well to beat him in the semifinals on way to the Asian junior title.

For the men’s doubles, there is an addition this time through Purav Raja, Divij Sharan and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, which opens up exciting possibilities as the Indian players can weave their magic on grass.

So, it is not just Roger Federer who can make it a fascinating fortnight of Wimbledon for the Indian tennis fans, but also a bunch of “make in India’’ players.

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