Undersung, if not unsung, heroes of tennis

Sania has made it again to the third round in a Grand Slam. Chances are quite high that she will fall to Venus. But it is a credit to Sania that we are talking about ‘chances’ instead of a firm certainty. She truely belongs to the Top 30 now. This, to my mind (I am no less a fan of cricket than tennis), is a bigger achievement than most of what Indian cricket team has done or not been able to do. For the simple reason that the stage is huge, competition is tougher and Indian women were nowhere in the picture till Sania came along. There was only a Nirupama Vaidyanathan before Sania who even hardcore tennis enthusiasts might only just about remember. Today people from more countries know Sania than Sachin. Ofcourse, it is a different fact that the Sachin is a household name in cricketing nations, which still Sania is not, even in India.

Krishnans and Amritrajs have all been lonely unsung warriors on the tennis circuit who have waged many a valient battle against some of the biggest stars. Mahesh Bhupati has been on top of the world in doubles. But the two persons who really deserve more than a passing mention in the history of Indian sports are Sania and Leander.

Sania for being the first Indian woman to break into the top, the importance of which will dawn a few years later when more women come through. Sania is a tennis equivalent of a Kapil Dev or Vishwanathan Anand, who paved the way for other Indians to enter hitherto uncharttered territories.

Leander for being Leander, a man who has given more than his best everytime he adorned the India colours.  From the first time, well past midnight India time during a chilly winter in France, when as an young lad he made many hearts skip many beats and tricolour flutter, playing 100 notches above his usual level, to the time when as old warhorse he was fighting cramps and a Pakistani player through five sets,  Leander continues to be a real patriotic superhero, consistently. If determination can overcome physical abilities, possibilities and barriers, it is always on display when Leander plays in Davis Cup or Olympics.

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