Huge Boost For Tennis In Cricket Paradise Country


Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza say their historic Australian Open mixed doubles success on Sunday will give the sport a huge boost back home in cricket-obsessed India.


Bhupathi and Mirza became the first Indian pair to win a Grand Slam mixed doubles title when they crushed Andy Ram of Israel and Frenchwoman Nathalie Dechy 6-3, 6-1.


It rounded off a successful tournament for India after 16-year-old Yuki Bhambri won the boys' junior championship on Saturday, while Bhupathi also made the final of the men's doubles alongside Mark Knowles of the Bahamas. "You know, it's great, I don't remember the last time when we had so many-I mean, he (Bhupathi) played the finals, we won today, Yuki won. It's been a great two weeks," Mirza said.


"Let's hope a lot more people play, and tennis grows. It's been growing-it might take it to another level." Bhupathi said the fact that Mirza, India's most popular sportswoman, had won added to the impact.


"I know for a fact the whole country's excited now," Bhupathi said. "It's her first slam-she's been in the news for the last four years." While Mirza was celebrating her first success at this level, Bhupathi's victory was his 11th Grand Slam title. "It's been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for me this weekend," he said.


"I want to thank all the Indians-we are very lucky that there are so many millions supporting us, not just here but back at home."


Interview Session:

Q. Your first Grand Slam title, Sania. How are you feeling?

SANIA MIRZA: Great. I mean, you know, it's always a dream to win a Grand Slam. That's what we all play for I think when we're younger.

It's just great. It makes it more special because it's with someone that I know for so long and so well.

Yeah, it's great. It's great to win it.


Q. What was it like serving for the championship? What was going through your mind?

SANIA MIRZA: Nothing, actually. I was trying to block that score out. I wasn't really looking at the scoreboard and thinking, Oh, it's 5‑1, I'm serving for the championship. I was just trying to serve it out like it was any other game.


Q. What was your feeling when you were holding the cup out on center court?

SANIA MIRZA: I think it's a feeling that you can't really describe. You're obviously very happy. It's a dream come true.


Q. Mahesh, have you personally played a better game of doubles than you did today?

MAHESH BHUPATHI: Yeah, I felt I've been playing pretty well the last couple of days. Had a good hit this morning. So obviously it's a huge bonus if you can play high quality in a Grand Slam final because that takes a lot of pressure off.

I think both of us played a very high‑quality match today.


Q. A very good tournament for Indian tennis.

SANIA MIRZA: Yeah, it is. I mean, even in the juniors, we had a Grand Slam champion as well. So, yeah, it's been a great two weeks.


Q. How much impact might this have back in India?

SANIA MIRZA: Let's hope a lot. You know, it's great. I don't remember the last time when we had so many ‑‑ I mean, he played the finals, we won today, Yuki won. It's been a great two weeks.

Let's hope a lot more people play, and tennis grows. It's been growing. It might take it to another level.


Q. The first all‑Indian pair to win a mixed doubles at a Grand Slam.

SANIA MIRZA: It's great. What can you say? We've been playing for I think four or five slams now. We came very close last year, as well.

Yeah, we did one better this time. We hope to continue.


Q. Mahesh, what are your goals for this year? Are you going to continue playing together? Any particular tournaments in mind?

MAHESH BHUPATHI: Well, you know, for us, it's always four slams where we have the opportunity to play mixed.

Ideally I'd like to continue playing with her, now that we're doing so well (laughter).


Q. In your businessman's hat would you consider a mixed doubles tournament in India?

MAHESH BHUPATHI: Yeah, we might consider an exhibition. I don't know, you know, maybe once the economy turns around across the world, we'll look at it. Obviously I think millions and millions of people watched this match today. Any time Sania plays at home, there's a lot of people watching, so...


Q. You mentioned in your presentation speech, you thanked your box about an emotional rollercoaster this week.

MAHESH BHUPATHI: The weekend. I mentioned it because we lost a tough one last night. Obviously we were a bit down. But tried to stay as positive as possible in the final today. Getting through was big.


Q. How do you bounce back from that and play the tennis you played today?

MAHESH BHUPATHI: I don't know. I mean, like I said, you know, both my coach, trainer and obviously Sania, they were trying to keep me as positive as possible.

But going home without a title after making two finals just crossed my mind a few too many times today in the match (laughter). But it didn't happen. Happy about that.


Q. Was it a different final than the last one when you played against Bjorkman and Rafter?

MAHESH BHUPATHI: Well, the atmosphere in '99 was sensational, playing Pat here in the final with the full house. It was amazing. It was a five‑set match.

Yesterday, again, we dominated the first two sets. We had our chances. We didn't take them. When you don't against the Bryans, that's tough.


Q. What will the reception be like when you get home?

MAHESH BHUPATHI: Well, hopefully not too big. I'm not a big fan of receptions. I'd like to sneak out the back door at the airport tomorrow.

I know for a fact the whole country's excited now. It's her first slam. She's been in the news for the last four years. I think a lot of good players in the past have won a slam in either doubles or mixed and then gone on to do better things, like Lleyton Hewitt. Even Venus and Serena, they won their first slams in mixed. They were confident to move up in singles.


Q. Will you go home before your next tournament?

MAHESH BHUPATHI: Yeah, we're heading home.

SANIA MIRZA: Heading home.


Q. How would you compare your form when you first got here to today?

SANIA MIRZA: I think today, especially today, I think we both played really well. Honestly, I was a little surprised because it was my first final of a Grand Slam, nerves and everything. But I think we stepped it up after the first few games, and then suddenly we were on a roll.

The last few days I've been feeling like I've been hitting the ball really well. Yeah, it helps when your partner helps you out so much, when you make a couple of returns and he's flying on the net.


Q. Physically, things are still going really well? The wrist is good?

SANIA MIRZA: The wrist has held up. That's the biggest positive, is that I played men's players for the last two weeks, and it's held up.



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