Hyderabad: The highest point for Indian tennis at Olympics came way back in 1996 when Leander Paes won a bronze for the country in singles event in Atlanta. Twenty-five years later, his bronze still remains the only tennis medal for the country at the quadrennial showpiece.
The mixed doubles pair of Sania Mirza and Rohan Boppana came close to winning India’s second tennis medal at the Rio Olympics. The pair was in a strong position against Venus Williamson and Rajeev Ram in semifinals but suffered a sudden slump to lose the match. They went on to lose the bronze-medal match as well and returned empty-handed.
Five years after the Rio heart-break, Sania is on the verge of history. She is set to become the only female athlete to have represented India at four Olympics when she takes to the court along with talented youngster Ankita Raina. Sania’s protected ranking of nine earned them a direct entry into the Games. Paes remains the most-capped player in Olympics having represented the country in seven Olympics. His dream of an eighth Olympics took a beating with his poor ranking.
With India’s best men’s doubles pair of Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan failing to make the cut, India’s hopes rest on the 34-year-old Hyderabadi and her partner. Having partnered Sunitha Rao in Beijing in 2008, Rushmi Chakravarthi at London in 2012 and Prarthana Thombare in Rio in 2016, the former doubles World No.1 Sania joined hands for the first time with a player who is also ranked inside 100. Ankita is currently ranked 95.
This Tokyo Games, more or less, being her last Games, the six-time Grand Slam winner, hopes to win the elusive Olympic medal to complete her trophy cabinet. However, the field in the Olympics is very tough with the USA, Spain, Belarus, France and Great Britain fielding strong women’s doubles teams. The Indian duo has to dish out superior show to return with a medal.
Meanwhile, 23-year-old Sumit Nagal made the cut at the last moment in the singles event, thanks to a large number of withdrawals that include the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal. He is ranked 144 and that pushed him inside the qualifying bracket. Though Yuki Bhambri ranked at 127, he underwent a knee surgery and ruled himself out, paving way for Nagal. Prajnesh Gunneswaran, who is ranked at 148, missed the cut narrowly.
Soon after his qualification, the All India Tennis Association paired him with Rohan Bopanna for the men’s double event, withdrawing Divij Sharan’s name. However, their entry was not accepted. Nagal’s best show on the international arena was reaching the second round at the US Open in 2019. But he is going through a lean patch and unlikely to advance further in the draws.