BARCLAYS ATP WORLD TOUR FINALS 2012
Bhupathi/Bopanna Save 1 M.P. To Beat Paes/Stepanek For London Final Berth
by James Buddell|
The all-Indian team advanced to the final with a 4-6, 6-1, 12-10 victory over the third seeds Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek, who were undefeated in the group stage, on Sunday at The O2 in London. It avenged Paes and Stepanek’s win in last month’s Shanghai Rolex Masters final.
Bhupathi and Bopanna came into the London tournament on the back of lifting their first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 trophy at the BNP Paribas Masters (d. Qureshi-Rojer). Bhupathi is making his 12th appearance at the season-ending event. He is a four-time runner-up. Three of his runner-up finishes came with Paes in 1997, 1999 and 2000. He also finished runner-up with Max Mirnyi in 2010. As a team, Bhupathi and Bopanna improve to a 34-21 season mark.
“We wouldn’t mind a few more weeks on tour,” said Bhupathi, on their strong finish to the 2012 season. “We have got one match to go and [after we] get back into focus, after celebrating for the next two hours. We’d like to finish with the title here.”
In the first set, Paes and Stepanek converted their fourth break point opportunity on Bhupathi’s serve, winning a sudden death deuce for a 4-3 lead. When serving for the set at 5-4, Stepanek came through a testing point at 30/30, with the Czech and Paes being forced to defend their position at the net. Stepanek hit an unreturned serve to seal the 36-minute opener. Paes and Stepanek lost just eight of their 28 service points.
Bhupathi and Bopanna put Paes under pressure in the third game of the second set. Paes fell to 0/40, clawed back two points, but uncharactersitcally hit a backhand volley into the net to gift his fellow Indians a 3-1 lead. Bopanna, who served well throughout with great pace and change in direction, went onto confirm the break. With Bhupathi and Bopanna in the asecendancy, they extended their lead to 5-1 after two terrific returns in Stepanek’s service game. Bhupathi closed out the 25-minute set with a hold to 15. Paes and Stepanek won just 12 points and 33 per cent of their first serves.
Paes and Stepanek made the first move in the Match tie-break. Hyped-up, both players kept moving forwards and switched to putaway any half chances. They won a point on Bhupathi’s serve at 3-3, when Bhupathi hesitated on a short forehand that he tentatively hit into the net. Stepanek further extended their lead to with accurate serving, leaving Paes easy putaways. At 8-5, the pair wobbled. Paes and Stepanek both failed to execute solid volleys to lose three straight points. At 8-8, Stepanek served out wide to Bopanna, who lobbed too short to give Paes a smash winner.
“We just wanted to make sure that we kept aggressive on the court,” said Bopanna. “They came up with a couple of good volleys to be ahead in the tie-break. We didn’t play any bad points as such. We just kept the same strategy and it paid off.”
When asked about the tense end to the Match tie-break, Bhupathi, smiling, said, “It was enjoyable at the end. In this format, things change very quickly. We just had to keep our heads down and fight, because things can change at any second. [We were] 3-7 and 5-8 down in the tie-break, made a few shots [and] the next thing you know we’re up match point.”
Bhupathi saved one match point with a backhand volley and at 9-9, on Bopanna’s serve, hit another volley winner down the middle. Paes saved the match point with a forehand volley winner, but Stepanek volleyed a backhand into the net at 10-10. Bhupathi, serving on his team’s second match point, took his time. Serving down the middle, Stepanek returned to Bopanna, who struck a high forehand volley for a winner. It ended the 22-minute Match tie-break and 85 minutes of high-quality doubles.
Bopanna said, “After winning Paris, we took that momentum here. After that first match loss here [against Marray and Nielsen], which we lost in the Match tie-break, I think it helped us to realise that it isn’t over until the last point. I think that got us through today.”
Like Bhupathi, Paes is 0-4 in title matches at the season-ending championships. The 39-year-old also fell at the final hurdle in 2005 with Nenad Zimonjic. Stepanek was making his doubles debut at the tournament this year.
Paes and Stepanek ended this year with a 32-10 team record. They have played well in big tournaments with trophies at Australian Open (d. Bryans) and ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events in Miami (d. Mirnyi-Nestor) and Shanghai.