The date 7 June is special for Mahesh Bhupathi and not only because he was born today in 1974 . On this date in 1997, he became the first Indian to win a tennis major.

Before the French Open started in 1997, few would have given a second thought to the pair of Rika Hiraki (Japan) and Bhupathi, both very talented individuals but with little to show for the potential they had. But the 16th seed pair went on to win the Mixed Doubles, defeating top-seeded American pair of Lisa Raymond and Patrick Galbraith 6-4, 6-1 in straight sets.

Hiraki became the first Japanese woman to win a major tournament. It was also her only major title. Bhupathi, on the other hand, went on to win a dozen major titles, in both men’s doubles and mixed doubles events. He is one of the eight players to have a career slam in mixed doubles events. (When an individual or a pair goes on to win all four majors in their career, it is called a career slam.)

Known for playing from the baseline and his big booming serves, Bhupathi has played 55 matches for India in the Davis Cup and won 35.

His famous partnership and fallout with Leander Paes, with whom he reached the ATP world No. 1 ranking in doubles in April 1999, is well documented. The pair went on to win the doubles championship at the 2006 Doha Asian games. Together, Bhupathi and Paes became the symbol of India’s tennis prowess, something that inspired a whole generation to pursue a sport that is not cricket.

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