There are birthdays and then there are special birthdays. June 7, 2012 was one such day for Mahesh Bhupathi. The Indian tennis ace celebrated his 38th birthday by adding a 12th Grand Slam to his impressive career, as he and Sania Mirza captured their second mixed doubles title together by beating Klaudia Jans-Ignacik and Santiago Gozalez 7-6, 6-1 in the French Open final on Thursday.
The seventh-seeded pair added the clay title to the Australian Open crown they won in 2009, and both swapped praise for each other after the victory. "I want to thank my partner who is one of the best doubles players in the world and I'm lucky to play with him," Mirza told the sparse crowd on Philippe Chatrier Court. "Last year I was a runner-up in the women's doubles so I'm delighted to finally get a Roland Garros trophy. It is my partner's birthday today, so now I don't have to think of a gift to give him," Mirza added as the fans burst into an impromptu rendition of 'Happy Birthday.
"It's been amazing, and still hasn't sunk in. I could not have asked for a better present from my partner," Bhupathi told CNN-IBN from Paris. "It’s still ticking. Fifteen years later, the excitement is still the same when you win a title. It's the exact same feeling as I had 15 years ago. I'm working hard so hopefully it will continue."
The pair's success at the French Open augurs well for Indian tennis.
Bhupathi and Sania have done enough to suggest they are the mixed doubles pair to watch out for. At 38, Bhupathi is no spring chicken but his success – he now has eight mixed doubles to his name- leaves him as one of the most experienced players on the tennis circuit, and one of the best doubles players ever. With her singles' career not going anywhere fast, Sania's focus is now trained on her doubles’ game. Considering the rallies are shorter in doubles' tennis, it is understandable that Sania is a stronger presence with that powerful forehand.
The French Open final was an example of what the pair can do together. After a shaky start, Sania and Bhupathi overwhelmed their opponents: Sania was all power, Bhupathi precision. This combination of clout and control has been a feature of the pair's tennis over the years, most strikingly visible at the 2009 Australian Open where they stormed to the finals and defeated Nathalie Dechy and Andy Ram 6–3, 6–1.
The pair has had a successful run at the French Open, and there is speculation that the All India Tennis Association will field the same pair at the 2012 London Olympics. However, their place is not confirmed for the London Games as Sania still needs to get a wild card to make the women's singles draw which will ensure her eligibility to contest in the mixed-doubles. Sania was quick, however, to mention that such matters are not in the players' control. "Olympics are something we have all dreamt about as athletes and we want to win a medal there but a lot of things are not in our control," she said. "If we do get that opportunity we are going to give whatever we have to get that medal."
If the pair is reunited, however, India could be in line for its second Olympic medal from tennis.