Rio de Janeiro: India were left to rue a missed opportunity in tennis with Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna’s mixed doubles semifinal loss after Lalita Babar became the first woman in three decades to enter the final of a track event at an Olympic Games.
A historic Olympic silver medal was well within reach before Sania and Bopanna suffered a sudden mid-match slump and frittered away an advantageous position to lose their last- four clash from a position of strength to Americans Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram.
After dominating the first set, Sania and Bopanna lost 6-2 2-6 3-10 to the Americans and will now fight for the bronze medal.
The Indians were cruising at one stage but once Sania’s serve was broken in the fourth game of the second set, the tide turned in the favour of the Americans. Leander Paes remains the only player to win a tennis medal in India’s Olympic history.
“We have to try and recover as quick as possible, mentally and physically. Probably more mentally. We have to go back, try and get some sleep, put some food in our body and recover for tomorrow,” Sania said after the defeat.
The duo of Sania and Bopanna stumbled after Lalita revived India’s fortunes in the track and field events. Lalita scripted a new chapter in the country’s athletics history in the Olympic Games by becoming the first woman in three decades to enter the final of a track event when she shattered the national mark to reach the 3,000M steeplechase medal round.
Lalita, hailing from Satara district of Maharashtra, qualified for the women’s 3,000m steeplechase final after finishing fourth in the qualifying heat 2 with a new national record time of 9 minutes, 19.76 seconds while the holder of that mark, compatriot Sudha Singh, was eliminated after a poor run in heat 3.
The 27-year-old Lalita, who had won the bronze medal in the event in the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, two years ago, emulated ‘Payyoli Express’ P.T. Usha by entering the final. Usha, who runs a running academy now, was the first Indian woman to achieve the distinction when she made the finals of the women’s 400m hurdles in 1984 at Los Angeles before missing the bronze by a fraction of a second.
Lalita, in fact, finished with the seventh-best time in the heats by clipping nearly seven seconds off the existing national mark standing in the name of Sudha (9:26.55), clocked in Shanghai in May.
The top three in the three heats gained automatic qualification while Lalita made the grade as one of the six fastest from among the rest. Had she ran in the third heat she would have qualified as the winner of that race. After qualifying for the final, an elated Lalita said that she was looking to give her best in the final on the Independence day. PTI