Leander Paes and his Latvian partner Jelena Ostapenko had to dig deep into their reserves to churn out a 7(7)-6(4), 6-3, 10-6 win against the Australian duo of Storm Sanders and Marc Polmans in their first-round match of the Australian Open.
With both pairs getting wild card entries into the mixed doubles event of the tournament, none were willing to settle for less, which was evident from the first set. After Leander Paes and Jelena Ostapenko were broken in the fourth game, the Indo-Latvian duo broke back immediately to maintain parity as the first set went into a tie-breaker.
However, Leander Paes and his partner couldn’t hold on to their serves and were broken on three occasions to lose the first set tie-breaker 7(7)-6(4).
The match, however, was soon levelled 1-1 in the second set as Leander Paes and Jelena Ostapenko broke the Australian duo in the second game of the second set, before holding on to their serves for the remaining games and winning it 6-3.
The match was sent to a super tie-breaker following that with nerves coming to the fore but Leander Paes, the winner of three Australian Open mixed doubles titles (2003, 2010, 2015), eventually emerged victorious.
The Indo-Latvian duo was broken only twice in the 10-serve tie-breaker while Storm Sanders and Marc Polmans were broken four times to lose it 6-10.
Olympics on his mind
Turning pro in 1991, Leander Paes announced last Christmas that he was bringing down the curtain on an illustrious 29-year career with some selective tournaments to be played in 2020.
The 46-year-old could be a part of a record eighth Olympic Games campaign this year, adding to his achievement of 18 Grand Slam titles and an Olympic bronze medal.
“I played the 1992 Olympics qualifier in Osaka, won bronze in 1996 Atlanta, and missed three Olympic medal chances in doubles over the years, including a doubles match point in Athens,” Paes was quoted saying by Mumbai Mirror.
“The Olympic journey has been massive in my family. We have two generations of Olympic champions in the house,” he added, referring to his father Vece Paes, a midfielder in the bronze medal-winning Indian hockey team at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
“The Tokyo Olympics sure is on my mind, but it's still far away,” he said.