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Lee-Hesh expect a fight in semis

By M R Mishra
August 19, 2004 16:46 IST
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Having put themselves within sniffing distance of an Olympic medal, India's star tennis pair of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi is determined to go the whole distance, saying they have the experience to handle the pressure of big matches.

The Indians had no difficulty in disposing of the fourth seeded pair of Wayne Black and Kevin Ullyett of Zimbabwe with a straight sets verdict in the quarter-finals on Wednesday and will now take on the unseeded pair of Nicholas Kiefer and Rainer Schuettler of Germany in the semi-finals later on Thursday at the Olympic Tennis Centre.

The two estranged partners have shown glimpses of their old magic and not dropped serve in the three matches they have played so far.

"We have been through very tough situations, down match-points, but we have recovered well. I think we are ready. We just have to continue playing the way we have done," Bhupathi said.

When Paes was asked whether he felt additional pressure since he had won a bronze in the Atlanta Games in 1996, the seasoned campaigner shot back, "Pressure, what pressure? I have been there for so many years, done that. I love pressure situations as it brings the best in me.

"It is a team out here; it is not about me, it is about us. We love to keep each other happy," Paes said.

The two former partners have encouraged each other on court and the occasional shoulder-butting, which had symbolized their rein at the top in the doubles circuit a few years back, was again seen on Wednesday for a couple of times, reminiscent of the old days.

On whether the old magic had come back, Paes said they are professional tennis players and know how to combine on the court.

"We are professionals. Whenever we are playing for the country, it is always there. Yesterday it was about solidarity, and yes, the magic was there," the 31-year-old Paes said.

Both Paes and Bhupathi said they knew what to expect from their Zimbabwean rivals and had prepared accordingly.

"They were an experienced doubles team, but we knew what to expect from them. But unlike [Roger] Federer and [Andy] Roddick, this team was not very dangerous. It is difficult to beat unorthodox teams. We are now ready for the doubles pros left in the fray," Paes said.

Paes expects a tough fight from the German pair in the semi-finals, because they are also a little unorthodox.

"This German team is also a little unorthodox. They are going to be tough; we will try our best to beat them."

Bhupathi said the ploy to use the lob more often against the Zimbabwean pair was part of strategy that was discussed before the match.

"We had discussed on it. It was one of the priority areas for us."

Both Paes and Bhupathi were not unduly bothered about playing under lights, saying that they were quite used to it.

"It was not really difficult to play at night. We had played the match against Federer and Allegro in the night, so that sort of helped us." Paes said.

Asked whether he had gone to the hockey ground to cheer the Indian team as he usually does in the Olympics, Paes said, "This time I did not have the time. It is important that I cheer every Indian in any sport."

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M R Mishra
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