London: Before the Olympics, cynics felt that the All India Tennis Association's (AITA) decision to select Sania Mirza as Leander Paes' mixed doubles partner was not a wise one. Sania, they claimed, would feel more comfortable partnering Mahesh Bhupathi.
On Thursday evening, Paes and Sania proved them wrong. And how! Playing against the formidable Serbian duo of Nenad Zimonjic and Ana Ivanovic, the Indian pair played in the most convincing manner, winning 6-2, 6-4 in straight sets.
With all the Indian men's and women's doubles teams eliminated from the Games, Paes and Mirza are their country's last hope. Next up for Paes and Mirza is a quarter final clash against Belarusian top seeds Victoria Azarenka and Max Mirnyi on Friday.
The duo played some exciting strokes in front of a Wimbledon crowd, who were rooting for the Indians. It was a truly convincing display, with the pair showing excellent understanding on the court.
While Paes was steady, Sania looked in fine nick despite playing with a bandaged right leg. She served well, played some terrific forehand shots and most importantly, never faltered at crucial moments.
"Playing with Sania is fun," said Paes. "We always enjoy playing with each other and that makes our game better. We respect each other. We also support each other. That's brings the best out of us in the match," added Paes.
So dominating was the Hyderabad girl that Zimonjic, at the end of the match, described Sania as "unstoppable".
Paes said: "Let her continue to play like this. We can win the final then. She is always a good leader. That's one thing I like about her."
Sania said though she played with Paes after a long time, they had no problem in adapting. "We worked out our tactics."
Asked about her injury, Sania said: "Niggles are part of a sportsperson's life… Painkillers are our best friends. But we have to live with it and play well."
In boxing, Jai Bhagwan bowed out in the pre-quarterfinals of the men's lightweight (60kg).
After starting on an impressive note, Bhagwan lost steam in the second and third rounds to go down 8-16 to Gani Zhailauov of Kazakhstan at the ExCel arena.
Contrary to the final result, it was the 12th ranked Indian who started the bout on an aggressive note and pipped his opponent in the opening round with powerful staraight punches.
Leading 2-3 after the end of the first round, Bhagwan simply lost his touch and rhythm in the next round as eighth-ranked Zhailauov made a ferocious comeback into the bout.
A change of tactic seemed to have worked wonders for the Kazakh boxer as Bhagwan looked lazy in the second round.
Zhailauov, seeded fifth in the Games, simply ran away with the second round pocketing it 10-3, which includes three penalty points awarded against the Indian for continously ducking his head.
Going into the final round trailing by a whopping six points, Bhagwan needed an extra-ordinary display to close the gap but it was not to be as his Kazakh opponent once again came out on top, thereby dashing the hopes of Indian boxing fans.