Grand Slam fever grips tennis fans all over the world as the 2023 Australian Open kicks off. For the next fortnight, The Indian Express will bring you the biggest storylines of the day, and the best matches to watch at timings suitable for Indian audiences, every morning.
Sania Mirza / Rohan Bopanna vs (3) Neal Skupski / Desirae Krawczyk (Semifinal)
Approx 12pm, Margaret Court Arena
A year on, Sania Mirza’s farewell tour, which began following an opening-round defeat at the Australian Open last year, is still alive and kicking.
The 36-year-old, by far the most successful Indian tennis player of the 21st century, was planning on retiring after the 2022 season. But after injuries did not allow her to play the US Open as her final slam, and put a dent in her plans to qualify for the year-end WTA Finals, she decided to go out on her own terms, and play one final Major in Melbourne, before playing her last event at the WTA 1000 in Dubai.
Now in her farewell Slam, Sania has one last crack at glory, having reached the mixed doubles semifinal alongside compatriot and fellow doubles veteran Rohan Bopanna.
The pair received a stroke of luck in the quarterfinal, receiving a walkover when they were due to face the Latvian-Spanish pairing of Jelena Ostapenko and David Vega, who pulled out presumably due to the former’s commitment in the women’s singles quarterfinal.
Sania and Bopanna are yet to drop a set across the two matches they have played and found their resolve to rebound after failing to convert a match point in the second-set tiebreak of their second-round encounter. Mixed doubles in Melbourne, which has a 10-point breaker at one-set-all, requires an element of clutch play that the experienced duo can be banked on to find.
The partnership, which came fourth at the 2016 Rio Olympics, has hinged heavily on both players’ distinct strengths. The two are both comfortable at the net, able to step up on the big points, but it is Bopanna’s serve – crossing the 200km/h on more than one occasion in Melbourne – and Sania’s forehand – especially returning serves out wide on that wing – that are able to paint the lines for aces/winners.
Smart tactics also formulate much of the strategy. On the back of Sania’s forehand prowess, and their ability at the net, they hit 31 winners in their win against Ariel Behar of Greece and Makoto Ninomiya of Japan in the second round. Ten of those were volleys, and six were passing shots, showing the attacking intent of going for low-percentage shots to shorten the rallies.
Up next is the seasoned partnership of Briton Neal Skupski and American Desirae Krawczyk. The duo came into the tournament as the third seeds as two-time defending champions at Wimbledon, the second triumph at the expense of Sania.
In her last outing at SW19, Sania came incredibly close to reaching the final, a set and a break up on Skupski-Krawczyk in the semifinal, alongside Croatian partner Mate Pavic. After she failed to put away a simple overhead for a double break in the second set, the comeback rolled in, as they began targeting Sania’s serve, and improved their play from the baseline when the opportunity crept in, to round out a 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 win.
Sania would be well aware of the fact that the tiniest lapse can allow the experienced duo back into the match. Without a quarterfinal test, this is going to be a significant step up in terms of level for both Sania and Bopanna. With what’s at stake for Sania, to end a historic career with one final triumph on the grand stage, expect high drama, and the crowd to be involved.