A near-capacity crowd cheered retiring Indian tennis legend Leander Paes as he and his partner Matthew Abden eked out a straight-set win to advance to the second round of the men’s doubles in the Bengaluru Open in Bengaluru on Wednesday.
As Paes walked into the stadium for his warm-up, minutes before his first-round doubles match, the spectators were on their feet, cheering the 18-time Grand Slam winner and Olympic medallist, who in all probability is playing his last ATP event on Indian soil.
Earlier in the day, his Australian partner Abden lost a gruelling three-setter, each one decided via tie-breaker, to Egypt’s Mohamed Safwat in a match that lasted a little over three hours.
His tiredness seemed to have vanished in Paes’ presence so much so that he looked to be the dominant partner between the two as they beat Slovenian-Chinese combine of Blaz Rola and Zhizhen Zhang 7-6(2), 6-4 in the first round match.
Meanwhile, India’s top-ranked player and defending champion Prajnesh Gunneswaran, seeded seventh here, was stretched by Sebastian Fanselow of Germany en route to the quarterfinals of the USD 162,480 prize money event as three seeds were shown the door at the KSLTA on Wednesday.
The other Indians to advance into the next round were 17th seed Ramanathan Ramkumar who quelled the challenge of the qualifier Abhinav Shanmugam with a 6-1, 6-3 win and Sidharth Rawat who beat lucky loser Rishi Redyy 6-2, 6-2.
Italian Julian Ocleppo ousted 10th seed Zhizhen Zhang of China 6-1, 6-3 while Frenchman Benjamin Bonzi sent home the 12th seed Nikola Milojevic of Serbia with a 6-4, 6-1 victory. The last seed to bite the dust was 15th seed Kimmer Coppejans of Belgium who went down to Frederico Ferreira Silva of Portugal 3-6, 6-3, 5-7.
Prajnesh, who achieved a career-high ranking of 75 last year riding on a spate of good performances which included making the main draw of all the four Grand Slams, took time to settle in his quest to defend his title.
Playing against the German who is ranked more than 400 places below him, a break in the fifth game gave him the advantage as he once again broke him in the seventh before clinching the opener 6-2.
The 124th ranked Indian should have settled the issue in the second after going 3-1 up with a break in the second game. However, a couple of unforced errors added to his woes as he lost his serve in the sixth and 10th game to lose the second set 4-6.
In the decider, both tested each other’s forehand to the maximum and held their respective serves until the seventh game where the German lost his serve, which was enough to set up a win for the Indian who served out for the match.