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 Saturday, September 11
Top-seeded duo of Paes, Bhupathi falls
Associated Press


NEW YORK -- Lifted by a song from space, Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes have completed their own Grand Slam journey.

India has a rich tennis tradition and many star players, including Ramanathan Krishnan and his son, Ramesh, and the Amritraj brothers: Vijay, Anand and Ashok.

Bhupathi and Paes
Mahesh Bhupathi, right, and Leander Paes became the first team to reach the men's doubles title match in all four major events.

Until Bhupathi and Paes, however, the Jewel of the Orient never had a Grand Slam tournament champion.

"We've proven to India that we can produce champions, even though it's only in doubles," Paes said, referring to their titles this year at the French Open and Wimbledon. "We've proven to India that we can achieve levels and heights of this magnitude if you're willing to work hard enough and put things together."

The run of Grand Slam titles ended Friday. Rain delayed the start of the match and forced it to be moved from Arthur Ashe Stadium to Louis Armstrong Stadium.

It was downhill from there for the top-seeded men's doubles team.

The location made no difference to the 11th-seeded team of American Alex O'Brien and Canada's Sebastien Lareau. They defeated Paes and Bhupathi, 7-6 (9-7), 6-4, for their first Grand Slam doubles title.

Still, the pair from India became the first team to reach the men's doubles title match in all four major events.

"It was something I wanted to set as a record," said the 26-year-old Paes, who won the Wimbledon junior boys title and was ranked No. 2 in the world as a junior. "Being Indian, I wanted to set that trademark, doing it with another fellow Indian, getting to four Grand Slam finals, even maybe winning a Grand Slam.

"At that point in time when I thought about it, I thought it was a little farfetched goal."

The goal became reality -- with a little help from the stands -- and from space.

Playing a third-round match against Americans Justin Gimelstob and Richey Reneberg, the Indian duo lost the first set before leveling the match. Then, from the stands wafted a song.

"Sare jahaan se achha Hindustan harnara."

Bhupathi and Paes heard it and responded.

"We looked at each other, the song was chanting in the background. I had goose bumps on my arms," Paes said. "We made eye contact and knew we had to get it going."

The duo rallied for a 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory.

"The song is not our national anthem," Paes said, "but it's like our folk song. ... Basically what it says, 'In the whole world, we are the best.' "

In 1983, India's first astronaut, Rakesh Sharma, was asked how does India look from space.

"Sare jahaan se achha Hindustan harnara," Sharma responded.

Bhupathi and Paes have accomplished that.

Until the terrific tandem came along, the best an Indian player had done in a Grand Slam was two semifinal appearances at Wimbledon by Ramanathan Krishnan. Vijay Amritraj and Ramesh Krishnan reached the quarterfinals of both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

After his stellar junior career, Paes faltered as a professional, languishing in the 100-plus rankings in singles. Then, in 1995, along came Bhupathi.

For the first two years, they played good doubles, but not world class. Then suddenly their game clicked and they began winning matches and titles. Paes, the more athletic of the two, is a super volleyer. Bhupathi, at 6-foot-1 the taller of the two, has a huge serve.

The breakthrough came in 1997 when Bhupathi teamed with Rika Hiraki of Japan to win the French Open mixed doubles title. It was the first Grand Slam tournament crown for a player from India.

Bhupathi did the same here at the USTA National Tennis Center earlier this week when he captured the title with another Japanese partner, Ai Sugiyama.

Paes has kept pace, winning the mixed doubles at Wimbledon with American Lisa Raymond.

In 1998, Bhupathi, 25, and Paes won six titles, but in Grand Slam tournament could only reach the semifinals at the U.S. Open.

This year, they began by reaching the Australian Open final before losing to Jonas Bjorkman and Patrick Rafter. But by forcing the winners to a fifth set, the "Indian Express" and their growing band of Indian followers felt a Grand Slam title was within their reach.

The wait was only until the next major tournament, when they beat Goran Ivanisevic and Jeff Tarango in the final. At Wimbledon, the downed Paul Haarhuis and Jared Palmer in the title match.

"There are quite a few things that go into our doubles," Paes said. "But if there was one single-most quality I'd have to pull out, is that when we play together, we play with heart."

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