By Vineeth Krishnan
On Sunday, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi completed a successful reunion on the ATP Tour with their fifth Chennai Open title - a win that left their fans cheering well into the night and past it. For the veteran duo, the efforts in the final against youngsters Robin Haase and David Martin, signalled their return as a potent threat for the upcoming Australian Open.
"We played three good matches coming in to the final. Haase and Martin made it a really difficult game and it was one of the highest quality doubles matches that I have come across in a while. The second set tie-break and the match tie-break after that were both amazing. They had nothing to lose and started throwing everything at us," said Bhupathi, who had ended the 2010 season with a trip to the final of the ATP Finals event in London.
His partner and home-boy Paes, added that the intensity of the second set and the match tie-break was at a whole different level. "Nothing much changed from us (after the first set), but I thought the quality of tennis picked up in the second set. All of a sudden they played a few big points and all the momentum was in their favour. They were getting easy points on their serve and that shows, as after that early break back (for 2-2), we did not have a single break point in the entire set," he said.
"Then they also figured out our service strategy and so started to win points on our serve. We had to change our strategy and eventually it all came down to our history, understanding and teamwork. We were able to rethink our tactics under pressure and it was because we have such a good understanding among ourselves," added the 37-year-old Paes.
When asked about their longevity in the game, the 36-year-old Bhupathi said it is the result of a lot of hard work. "We are here because no one has pushed us (out) and also because we have been able to play a high level of tennis for 14 or more years. There are a lot of new teams out there and even today, we were up against two young guns, but managed to win out. And that is what counts the most," he said.
"At the end of the day, what is important is that we won, got very good match practice under our belts. And even though we both know there are things to work on, it was still a perfect preparation for the Australian Open," added Bhupathi, looking ahead to the only major title missing from the trophy cabinet of both these stalwarts.
This was the fifth appearance in the final of the Chennai Open as a team for Paes and Bhupathi, and they have won on each occasion. Paes said that winning a title in Chennai in front of a packed home crowd meant a lot to both of them. "We've both got around 45-46 titles in our career and 10% of those have been won in Chennai," he said.
Earlier, Swiss ace Stanislas Wawrinka claimed the singles title, making amends for missing out in the final in 2010. The third seed played a high level of tennis in the entire tournament and eventually overcame veteran Belgian Xavier Malisse in three sets in the final.
"Xavier really took the fight to me. I was playing well but he was being aggressive and forced mistakes from me. But at the end, it has been a perfect week. I have been practicing hard and my game has improved with every game I have played. It is absolutely amazing to take the trophy," said Wawrinka.
Speaking on his ambitions for the upcoming season, the former top-10 player said he wants to fight his way back towards the top after having a less than impressive end to 2010 as a result of injuries.
"I will try to get to the top but all the players in the top-20 have a great game. It is very difficult to win against them but the reason I have been training so hard is to get better. And yeah, getting to the top-10 is definitely my goal for the year," added Wawrinka.
Malisse, who first took part in this event as a 14-year-old qualifier in 1996, said it feels great to come back to the city every year. "This is my first final after three years and I am just happy to be healthy, and to be on court without any injury worries. It is good to be back to the final in Chennai and if I am healthy, I will come back next year as well," he said.