The Indian duo of Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna went down fighting in the semi-finals of the mixed doubles tennis event to the US team of Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram at the Rio Olympics here.
The Indians won the first set quite comfortably before squandering the lead and going down 6-2, 2-6, 3-10 in one hour and 17 minutes at the Olympic Tennis Centre here on Saturday.
The Americans thus went into the final and assured themselves of at least a silver. The Indians will now have to contest the play-off for the bronze medal against Lucie Hradecka and Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic on Sunday.
Venus and Ram will take on fellow Americans Jack Sock and Bethanie Mattek-Sands for the gold medal. Jack and Bethanie defeated Lucie and Stepanek 6-4, 7-6 (3) in the other semi-final.
India have taken only one medal in tennis in the history of the Olympics. The legendary Leander Paes clinched a bronze medal in the men’s singles category at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Despite the loss, Sania and Bopanna are determined to recover from the disappointment and go for the bronze medal and grab a piece of history for themselves.
“Ten minutes after you lose a match like that it’s difficult to be positive, but in tennis we don’t get many chances. We don’t get two chances in a week, usually. We are fortunate to have a chance at another medal,” Sania said after the match.
“It was unfortunate that results were not in our favour. We have to do the right thing and recover as soon as possible mentally and physically, probably more mentally than physically, and try and come out there and have another shot at a medal,” she added.
“We have to try and get some sleep and put some food in our bodies and try and recover for tomorrow.”
Bopanna, who praised Venus for her gutsy performance, is however determined not to let Saturday’s disappointment affect his performance in the bronze medal play-off.
“Both of the teams are going to be in the same situation. It’s the first time in our tennis that we have another chance to take a shot at a medal. There are so many emotions going on in my mind, But as tennis players we have to take it in our stride,” the Bengaluru lad asserted.
The Indians imposed their domination in the early stages before Venus and Ram staged a superb comeback.
Bopanna stood out with his excellent returns and pinpoint placements at the net. Sania also played well with some intelligent service and good returns.
Venus and Ram took their time to settle and find their groove. They were somewhat subdued in the opening set and were totally outplayed by the Indians.
But a fired up Ram led the US comeback in the second set.
The 32-year-old of Indian origin came up with a much better performance in the second set and was excellent with his serves and ground strokes as well as with his returns at the net which rattled Sania-Bopanna a bit.
In the opening set, Bopanna’s first game was taken to deuce by the Americans before the Indian produced his first ace of the match to hold his serve.
In the next game, Indians put pressure on Ram’s serve before forcing a break at 0-40.
Sania then held her serve to give the Indians a 3-1 lead.
The Indians again put pressure Venus’ serve to force another service break in the seventh game and take a comfortable 5-2 lead.
Sania and Bopanna then held serve in the next game to win the first set.
The second set went with the serve until the Americans forced a breakpoint off Sania’s serve — their first in the match — in the fourth game.
Both sides fought desperately to produce a brilliant display of tennis as the Indians saved as many three break points before the Americans finally forced a break of serve to take a 3-1 lead in the set.
That seemed to provide some much needed morale booster to the Americans and Ram comfortably held his serve in the next game to increase the lead to 4-1.
Sania-Bopanna held serve in the next game, but the Americans took a strong 5-2 lead with Venus successfully holding her serve.
The Indian duo then saved two set points in the game, but could not prevent the Americans from clinching another service break off Sania’s serve to take the second set and level the scores.
The Indians took a 3-2 lead in the tie-breaker before Venus levelled the scores with an excellent cross court winner.
Bopanna then rammed an attempted return into the net to give the Americans the lead. Ram produced another excellent return, slamming the ball into the gap between Sania and Bopanna in the middle of the court to increase US’ lead to 5-3 before an ace from Venus stretched it to 6-3.
The Americans continued to dominate the exchanges thereafter before romping to victory.