The Indian mixed double pairing of Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupathi could not take advantage of a near home crowd advance against Igor Andreev and Maria Kirilenko.
The Russians won a tight affair 7-6 (4), 6-3 in which nothing could separate the opposing players, except for one crucial statistic: Mirza and Bhupathi were denied a break point opportunity for the entire match.
If the fans at Court 19 were disappointed, it was nothing compared to the Indian supporters at Court 11, who were still waiting for the match to start there, unaware that it had been moved.
Fans crowded every available vantage point to watch this fixture. Two enterprising fans even scaled some scaffolding behind one end and the match was stopped while they were called down.
“It’s always like that at Wimbledon, at least in my experience, there’s always a lot of Indians here, we’re lucky to get that level of support,” Mirza said afterwards.
“Tennis has been on the up for the last few years. With me and Mahesh playing together at regular Grand Slams people are following tennis a lot more. I don’t think you normally see that sort of crowd at a first round mixed doubles match.”
Bhupathi added: “Sport is very big in India and unfortunately we do not have many people representing us at a global level. For us, I’ve been around 12 years and Sania has created some serious waves in the last three or four years. The people really take to that, even though tennis is an individual sport we are aware that we are flying the flag every time we play a Grand Slam.”
Mirza and Bhupathi certainly flew the flag. By adopting a tactic of both attacking the net, they were reminiscent of another Indian superstar: cricketer Rahul Dravid (dubbed ‘the wall’). Andreev was determined that he would hit through the duo with sheer brute force, but the partners could not be breached.
At 2-2 Mirza and Bhupathi defended four break points, after which none of the players were troubled on their serve as they game advanced to a tie-break.
At the business end of the set, Andreev stepped up his game. The 24-year-old, who has been serving at speeds of 134mph, sent down three aces to gain the initiative.
“They played really well,” Mirza said, “better than they probably expected. Andreev is not a doubles player and he played well.
“In mixed doubles what matters are those one or two points here and there. People have to play really well to beat us,” Mirza said. “Eventually I’m sure we will be able to win one of these titles.”
Bhupathi added: “I think we enjoy playing together, Sania has her weapons and everyone knows what they are and I have played a lot of mixed doubles. I think we are very dangerous team.”