Pause, rewind, play: Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi’s Olympics heartbreak in 2004

Heading into the 2004 Athens Olympics, the relationship between Indian tennis stars Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi had endured a rollercoaster ride over the years. They reached the men’s doubles final in all four Grand Slams in 1999, winning the French Open and Wimbledon titles that year, and also claimed the Roland Garros title in 2001.

In 2002, though, it seemed their partnership had ended for good. The results on the court weren’t as impressive as they used to be and the duo decided to part ways.

However, for the 2004 Olympics, Paes and Bhupathi decided to give their partnership another shot in the hopes of landing a medal for India. In the previous edition of the Olympics, despite being in good form, they had suffered a second-round exit. But in Athens, they ended up delivering some world-class tennis before falling agonisingly short of the podium.

In the first round in Athens, the Indian pair, seeded fifth, got the better of America’s Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish. Paes and Bhupathi held their nerves in the first set tie-break, before running away with the contest in the second to win 7-6(5), 6-3.

It was in their second match that they put up their best performance. Up against Switzerland’s Yves Allegro and Roger Federer, the Indians served a reminder of their incredible prowess in doubles tennis to win the match in straight sets.

Federer, who had just turned 23 at that time, was at the peak of his powers and had won Wimbledon twice and the Australian Open once in the previous 14 months. The future icon of the sport was solid with his serve in that second round men’s doubles match at the Athens Olympics, but his opponents that day played a smart game to cross the finish line.

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