Australian Open | Bopanna one match away from first Major trophy, reaches final with Ebden

Rohan Bopanna of India in Adelaide, Australia. File
| Photo Credit: Getty Images

Rohan Bopanna earned himself one more opportunity to win a Grand Slam title by reaching the Australian Open men’s doubles final with Australian partner Matthew Ebden after prevailing in a tense semifinal against Tomas Machac and Zhang Zhizhen here Thursday.

The second seeded Indo-Australian pair faced some stiff resistance from their rivals in the third set but eventually the experience of playing Super Tie Breakers helped them nail the finish with a 6-3 3-6 7-6 (10-7) scoreline after two hours and two minutes.

Zhang (WR 54) and Machac (Wr75) are quality singles players, featuring in the top-100 list and their powerful hitting from the baseline did make it a tough contest for the experienced Bopanna and Ebden.

A day after he was assured of becoming the world number one player, Bopanna as usual served well on big points and also manage to pull out the strokes and tricks when they needed the most.

Bopanna has reached the US Open final twice (2013, 2023) but a Major trophy has eluded him in his career.

Now at the fag end of his career at the age of 43, he will have the chance to tick that box on Saturday.

Bopanna and Ebden will face Italian pair of Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori, who beat German team of Yannick Hanfmann and Dominik Koepfer 6-3 3-6 7-6 (5) in the other semifinal. “On the circuit, we have played lot of Super Tie Breaks, that gets us sharp. They (Machac and Zhang) return extremely well, we had to make sure we serve well and on spots. This partnership (with Ebden) has been good,” Bopanna said after the match.

Asked about his success despite the age, Bopanna said, “A lot of stuff goes behind the scenes. A big team is part of me. I just made sure I stay focussed on what I need to do get to ready, that is mobility and recovery. I do not look to lift heavy, just do yoga. I feel mental strength helps me.” Ebden said winning in front of the home fans is special.

“I could not be happier, winning before the home fans is special. These guys are super dangerous players. The doubles specialist against singles specialist is great (contest). It’s good for the fans. We have been working hard together for years. One more match to go,” he said.

After splitting the first two sets, the second seeds were in a spot of bother in the opening game, down 0-30 but Bopanna’s big serve came into play and he managed to make an important hold. A cross-court passing winner between Zhang and Machac was a treat for eyes.

Bopanna was all over with his fiery volley winners at the net, pulling the rug from the under the feet of their rivals to get the first break of the set. The break and easy holds gave the second seeds a comfortable lead.

Bopanna’s sportsman spirit was on display yet again in Grand Slams when he touched net in game seven and himself conceded the point.

Soon, the second seeds were serving for the match but suffered a break to allow little opening to their rivals.

Bopanna hit a backhand long to be 15-30 and then Zhang found a cross court forehand winner to leave the Indian facing two break points.

Bopanna hit his backhand wide on the first to allow the rivals strike back in the match.

Zhang though was down 0-40 in next game to offer three match points to Bopanna and Ebden. They unseeded pair saved all three – one on Bopanna’s return error second with serve and third with a crushing forehand winner down the line.

The Chinese player’s incredibly huge second serve yet again saved them and soon it was 5-all.

After a keen tussle in game 11th, Ebden held his serve for a 6-5 lead from where they could earn one more break and close the match in their favour.

Eventually, a Super tie break followed after the third set finished in a tie. Ebden’s super return winner earned the team a mini break at 3-2 and later Bopanna’s full stretch volley winner on Zhang’s return made it 7-5 in their favour. Bopanna closed the match with an ace.

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