Rio de Janeiro: India’s tennis campaign at the Rio Olympic Games ended in dejection as Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna were blown away by the Czech team of Radek Stepanek and Lucie Hradceka in the bronze medal play-off on Sunday.
The Indian pair, who raised hopes of a medal with two consecutive wins to make the semis, suffered a 1-6 6-7 humiliation in the mixed doubles contest that lasted one hour and 13 minutes. Mixed doubles was India’s best bet for a medal as it featured only 16 teams and winning three matches would have ensured a medal.
Sania and Prarthana Thombare had lost the first round in the women’s doubles while Bopanna and Leander Paes had also made a first round exit from the men’s doubles. Paes, who has now appeared in seven Olympics, now remains the only Indian tennis player to have won a medal in the biggest sporting extravaganza. He had won a singles bronze at 1996 Atlanta Games.
Stepanek was all class in the bronze medal contest as the Czech unleashed his powerful strokes, constructed the rallies and finished points with his superlative display. The Czechs sprayed the winners all over, catching the Indians by surprise, giving them no breathing space in the opening set.
Both Sania and Bopanna lost serve to trail 0-5. Bopanna saved two set points in the sixth game to save ignominy of being bageled. Lucie came out to serve out the opening set. It was a disastrous start in the second set too for the Indians with Bopanna dropping serve in the very first game but they broke back Stepanek. The Indians fought a bit and broke Lucie in the fourth game to take a 3-1 lead but Bopanna again lost his serve to allow Czechs to make a comeback in the set. At 5-5, Sania came to serve a must-win game but committed two double faults to be down by three break points. The Czechs converted the third when Bopanna’s half volley soared over the baseline.
A nervous Lucie served a double fault but Stepanek supported her with his tremendous presence of mind. Lucie smashed a backhand winner in open court to earn two match points and the Czechs sealed the match when Sania netted the forehand. This was Stepanek’s first Olympic medal while Lucie won her second medal having won one in women’s doubles meet in London.