India’s men’s hockey team broke a 12-year Olympics jinx by winning their opening group league encounter, but tennis star Leander Paes’s dream of a second medal in the Games history went up in smoke after he and doubles partner Rohan Bopanna crashed out in round one, here today.
The day commenced promisingly when army rower Dattu Baban Bhokanal entered the quarterfinals in men’s single sculls by finishing third in his heat.
Elsewhere women shooters Ayonika Paul and Apurvi Chandela put up a flop show to crash out of the 10m air rifle final while paddlers Mouma Das and Manika Batra also made an early exit by losing their preliminary round encounters.
In men’s hockey it was drag-flick experts Rupinder Pal Singh (2 goals) and V R Raghunath (1) who saved the day for India against minnows Ireland to break the poor sequence of opening game losses in Olympics going back to Athens in 2004.
Raghunath (15th minute) and Rupinder (27th, 49th) converted three out of seven penalty corners India earned in the match to secure their first win in an opening clash at the Olympics since Sydney Games 2000.
Ireland gave India a run for their money, especially in the second half, finding the net twice through Jermyn John (45th) and Conor Harte (56th) at the Olympic Hockey Centre.
Even as the hockey men were engaged in a tough battle, the Indian tennis pair of Paes and Bopanna, not the best of friends by any stretch of imagination, were outclassed by their Polish rivals Marcin Matkowski and Lukasz Kubot 4-6 6-7 (6-8).
Playing in his record seventh and probably his last Olympics, Paes – a bronze medallist at the 1996 Atlanta Games, saw his campaign get over in only 84 minutes as not for once did the Indian pair look like having forged a winning combination.
The controversies leading upto the first round match also did not do any good to the pair as there was a distinct lack of on-court chemistry between them.
Ironically, at 43 Paes has possibly played his last Olympic match and too bad that it ended in whimper within two days of his arrival in the Brazilian city despite the bang that it created due to the off-court events in the lead up to the quadrennial extravaganza.
Questions being raised about Paes’ delay in joining the squad after playing World Team Tennis and subsequent reports of not getting a bed in the earmarked apartment in the Games Village only made the matters worse.
The day’s proceedings started on a promising note when 25-year-old Pune-based armyman Bhokanal ended up third in the first heat of the day by finishing the 2000m race in 7 minutes and 21.67 seconds behind Angel Fournier Rodriguez of Cuba (7:06.89) and Mexico’s Juan Carlos Cabrera (7:08.27).