Traditionally the first Grand Slam of a new season, the Australian Open has enjoyed a rich legacy as one the most revered tournaments in tennis.
Having initially been played on grass courts since the Open Era (essentially the Grand Slam tournaments which allowed both professional and amateur players) began in 1968, the Australian Open shifted to a hard-court surface in 1989.
Staged in Melbourne since 1972, the Australian Open often sets the tone for the rest of the season for players and Indian tennis stars have performed admirably.
Let’s take a look at the best performers:
The name most synonymous with Indian tennis, Olympic bronze medallist Leander Paes has four Australian Open doubles titles – one men’s doubles and three mixed doubles - in his almost three-decade-long career. It has made him the most successful Indian at the Grand Slam.
Leander Paes’ first Australian Open trophy came in 2003 when he partnered the legendary Martina Navratilova – considered one of the best players in history – in the mixed doubles.
Seven years later, at the 2010 Australian Open, Leander Paes and partner Cara Black – who were together ranked world No. 1 at one point – lifted the mixed doubles title, beating Ekaterina Makarova and Jaroslav Levinsky 7-5, 6-3 in the final.
Leander Paes’ only men’s doubles title at the Australian Open came in 2012, when he teamed up with Radek Stepanek and they beat the renowned American twins Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan 7-6, 6-2 in the final.
The Indian tennis legend’s final Australian Open title to date came in 2015, with another legend in Martina Hingis. Paes-Hingis defeated Kristina Mladenovic and Daniel Nestor 6-4, 6-3 in the mixed doubles final.
One part of the famed ‘Indian Express’ duo with Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi interestingly never won a men’s doubles title at the Australian Open with his most famous partner.
Mahesh Bhupathi has two Australian Open titles to his name, both of which came in the mixed doubles.
The first of those came at the 2006 Australian Open as Mahesh Bhupathi paired up with Martina Hingis and they beat the duo of Elena Likhovtseva and Daniel Nestor 6-3, 6-3 in the final.
Incidentally, Mahesh Bhupathi reached the men’s doubles final thrice at the Australian Open – in 1999 with Leander Paes, in 2009 with Mark Knowles, and 2011 again with Paes – but ended up on the losing side each time.
The torchbearer for women in Indian tennis, Sania Mirza has lifted two Australian Open trophies – one each in the women’s doubles and mixed doubles.
Her only Australian Open mixed doubles title came in 2009 with Mahesh Bhupathi.
Sania Mirza then had to wait seven more years to win her second Australian Open title, a women’s doubles that came with Martina Hingis at the 2016 Australian Open.
Sania Mirza has also reached the Australian Open mixed doubles final on three other occasions – in 2008 with Mahesh Bhupathi, 2014 with Horia Tecau, and 2017 with Ivan Dodig – but was unable to pass the final hurdle.
Indians in singles at Australian Open
While Indian tennis has had a fruitful association with the Australian Open in the doubles, the singles performances have been ordinary.
The furthest any Indian has reached in the Australian Open singles is Sania Mirza, who made it to the third round in 2005 and 2008. She is the only female Indian tennis player to make it to the third round of a Grand Slam in the singles.
In the men’s singles, the furthest any Indian tennis player has reached at the Australian Open is also incidentally, the third round.
The legendary Ramesh Krishnan made the third round of the Australian Open five times in his career - at the 1983, 1984, 1987, 1988, and 1989 editions. In a major upset, Ramesh Krishnan beat world No. 1 Mats Wilander in the second round in 1989.
Apart from Ramesh Krishnan, Vijay Amritraj has made it to the second round at the 1984 Australian Open while Leander Paes managed second-round appearances in 1997 and 2000.
The most recent instance came from the now-retired Somdev Devvarman at the 2013 Australian Open.
However, the record could yet change at the upcoming 2021 Australian Open, beginning February 8.
Sumit Nagal has received a wildcard entry into the men’s singles, making him the only Indian to compete in either the men’s or women’s singles. Ankita Raina is on the reserves list for the women’s singles and could make yet her Grand Slam debut.
Nagal can take inspiration from his performance at the US Open last year, where he won his maiden Grand Slam match in the first round, before falling to eventual champion Dominic Thiem in the second round.