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Monday, January 30, 2023

The last dance of the ages

FeaturedSports NewsThe last dance of the ages

Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna have no right to do so. One is 36 — playing in her last Grand Slam. The other is 42 – he almost quit the game during the pandemic and is now taking things on a month-to-month basis. They are old by tennis standards. They’re old by professional sports standards, but together on Wednesday they showed they’ve still got it.

The unseeded Indian pair cruised into the mixed doubles final of the Australian Open by defeating third seeds Desiree Krawczyk and Neil Scoopsey 7-6(5) 6-7(5) (10-6).

Krawczyk and Skopesi are one of the best pairs in mixed doubles but Mirza and Bopanna dip into their vast wealth of experience to show that age is little more than a number if your heart is in it. Bopana was Mirza’s first mixed doubles partner when she was 14 and now 22 years later, the chemistry has helped her reach another peak.

Both players have not reached a Grand Slam final for some time now. Mirza last did it in 2017 when she lost in the mixed doubles Australian Open final, while Bopanna also did it in the Australian Open mixed doubles in 2018 – she also lost. Perhaps it is the familiarity – with the country, the place and the crowd – that still drives them forward.

“I’m very emotional – I’m not one to shout in front of people, but I’m almost there at the moment,” Mirza said after the match. “I feel the love here, 18 years since I’ve been coming here, it feels like home to me because honestly, I’ve got family here, I eat at home, I get home-cooked food. And I have it all. Indians are coming out and supporting me. It’s been quite a journey, and I’m really going to miss being back here.

The match, though, wasn’t about emotion. Rather, it was Bopanna and Mirza who showed how doubles could be played. They found the angles, the coordination was top-notch and, from time to time, there was some spectacular play at the net.

“It was an amazing match, I have a lot of nerves playing my last Slam and playing with Rohan is very special,” added Mirza, who plans to retire after the Dubai WTA event in February. “Rohan was my first mixed doubles partner when I was 14… We are excited to be back here and give ourselves another chance.”

In the final, Mirza and Bopanna will face Brazil’s Luisa Stefani and Rafael Matos, who defeated Australian wild card pair Olivia Giedecki and Mark Polmans 4-6 6-4 (11-9). And given how Indian tennis seems to be in a tailspin, Bopanna believes the title would be just the right kind of boost.

“It would be an absolute dream,” Bopanna said of what it means to win the trophy on Friday. “You can’t get anything better than that – to end your last Slam with a title, I think that will be really special. We need that in India, we need to keep impressing everyone there.

This is a special tournament for Mirza. She reached the third round of singles in 2005 (losing to Serena Williams) and 2008 (losing to Venus Williams with Bopanna sitting in her box). His first major title, the 2009 Australian Open mixed doubles with Mahesh Bhupathi, also came at Melbourne Park.

Asked to pick his favorite Australian Open moment, Mirza said, “The most memorable memory is playing here against Serena when I was 18, even though I lost that match, blown off the court. It happened.”

“My belief was there, that this is where I belong and this is where I want to be. Even though Serena won the tournament that year, for me it gave me the confidence that a young Indian girl, The dream I had was to play in Slam, try and win them, something like that happened to me this year.

“That memory … makes me laugh when I talk about it.”

When Mirza and Bopanna take the court for the final, most of the Indian fans will be laughing too. It will be the end of an era that started in Australia for Mirza and a win would certainly be a great way to end things. Talk about a full circle and all that.

(Tags to Translate)Rohan Bopanna


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