Asian Games tennis: Rutuja, Bopanna rally to clinch gold

Rutuja Bhosale and Rohan Bopanna
Rutuja Bhosale and Rohan Bopanna celebrate their triumph. Photo: PTI/Gurinder Osan

Hangzhou: Rutuja Bhosale raised her game in nick of time while seasoned Rohan Bopanna stayed solid with his big serves as India came back from a set down to win the tennis mixed doubles gold at the Asian Games, here Saturday.

The second-seeded Indian pair rallied to win the title clash 2-6, 6-3, 10-4 against Chinese Taipei's combo of Tsung-hao Huang and En-shuo Liang.

Rutuja struggled with her serve and returns in the opening set and the Taipei players targeted her for some easy points, especially Huang who latched on to her feeble returns for easy volley winners.

The 27-year-oldRutuja redeemed herself from a tight second-set situation, making some stunning returns.

Bopanna said changing sides for returns was game-changing as he moved to deuce side of the court.

"We had to understand each other, what our strengths are and what our weaknesses are. Today after we lost the first set I said, 'Let's change sides to return'. We need something to change the match," Bopanna, who has most likely played his final Asian Games, said.

"They were playing really well and I think if I was someone playing my first or second Asian Games I wouldn't have even thought of that. But after playing for years on the tour I'm able to adapt, which you need to find ways to win these matches, and I think that's what really made the difference."

Bopanna said he will now watch the India-Pakistan hockey match.

"I've been waiting to watch a few games. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten a chance and I can't think of a better moment to go support India."

The victory ensured that India will return with at least one tennis gold from the Asian Games in an otherwise disappointing campaign in which the country managed to win only two medals - the other being men's doubles silver.

Rutuja admitted that she was a bundle of nerves in the beginning of the match.

"For me to play and stand in front of such a big crowd, it was the first time I'd experienced that. I clearly had some nerves throughout the match, but not on the last point. I was just thinking, 'Give me my best serve right here,' and I think I took my time to serve.

"But to have the Indian flag there and the support, it was the first time for me - and it was amazing," she said.

The two-medal show is India's worst at the Asian Games since the turn of the century.

In 2002, India had returned with four medals from Busan and in the following editions the country won four (2006, Doha), five (2010, Guangzhou), five (2014, Incheon) and three (2018, Indonesia) medals.

The men's doubles team of Saketh Myneni and Ramkumar Ramanathan had won a silver on Friday but other players faded at different stages of the tournament.

It is Bopanna's second Asian Games gold and maiden podium finish for 27-year-old Rutuja, who hails from Maharashtra.

No singles player from the country could make it to the medal round with Sumit Nagal and Ankita Raina exiting early.

The Indian tennis contingent also struggled in other team events with the biggest disappointment being the early exit of medal favourites Bopanna and Yuki Bhambri in the men's doubles.

The fact that not many top players compete in the Asian Games, Indian players were expected to do well. The top-100 players are mostly from European nations and their absence could not be turned into an advantage.

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