Vijay Amritraj to Sania Mirza: How have Indian tennis debutants fared at the Olympics?

India's Ankita Raina and Sumit Nagal are set for their Olympic debuts at Tokyo 2020

By Olympic Channel Writer

India has competed in the tennis event ever since the sport was re-introduced at the Olympics in 1988, after a gap of 64 years.

At Tokyo 2020, which begins on July 23, three Indian players will feature in tennis.

While Sania Mirza and Ankita Raina will compete in the women’s doubles event, Sumit Nagal will participate in the men’s singles event. Nagal and Raina will be making their Olympic debut.

We look at how Indian debutants in tennis have fared so far:

Seoul 1988

Zeeshan Ali

Zeeshan Ali, son of Indian tennis star of the 1950s Akhtar Ali, qualified for the men’s singles event.

The then 18-year-old defeated Paraguay's Victor Caballero 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in the opener. But 10th seed Jakob Hlasek ended his Olympic campaign in the very next round.

Vijay Amritraj

Indian legend Vijay Amritraj was in the twilight on his career by the time the Seoul Olympics came around.

Aged 29 then, luck wasn't quite with the Indian either as he was drawn to play fourth seed Henri Leconte in the opening round. Amritraj, four years senior to Leconte, though took the match to the distance.

He lost a thriller 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3, 3-6. Amritraj remains officially the highest-ranked Indian ever, having peaked at No 18 in 1980.

Anand Amritraj

Anand Amritraj and his brother Vijay also competed in the men's doubles event.

They were edged out 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 4-6, 2-6 by eighth seeds Miloslav Mecir and Milan Srejber, who represented Czechoslovakia at the time, in the second round.

Barcelona 1992

Ramesh Krishnan

One of India’s biggest tennis stars, Ramesh Krishnan, was given a wildcard entry in men’s singles into the Barcelona 1992 Olympics.

But Krishnan took on top seed Jim Courier in the opening round and suffered a 2-6, 6-4, 1-6, 4-6 defeat at the hands of the American.

Leander Paes

Leander Paes' record-breaking journey in Olympics began at Barcelona 1992.

The Indian was only 19 years old then and had qualified for the men’s singles draw. Though he started off in a hurry, pocketing the first set versus Jaime Yzaga 6-1, Paes lost the next three sets to lose the opening round.

Paes and Krishnan made up for some of the disappointment of their singles campaigns by making it to the quarterfinals of men’s doubles. They ousted top seeds Todd Woodbridge and John Fitzgerald of Australia in four sets in the second round.

In the quarters, they faced the big-serving Goran Ivanisevic and Goran Prpic of Croatia. The Indian pair lost a tough battle 6-7, 7-5, 4-6, 3-6.

Four years later, Paes came back to win a bronze medal in men’s singles at Atlanta 1996. It was India’s first individual Olympics medal since wrestler KD Jadhav’s bronze at Helsinki 1952.

Paes went down in history books as the first tennis player to compete at seven Olympics. He competed in successive Games from 1992 to 2016.

Atlanta 1996

Mahesh Bhupathi

Mahesh Bhupathi made his Olympic debut at Atlanta 1996 as he competed in the men’s doubles event along with Paes.

The doubles event was reduced to a best of three sets affair and Paes-Bhupathi defeated Chinese wildcards Bing Pan and Jiaping Xia 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in the opening round. However, they went down in three sets to the legendary ‘Woodies’ (Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde), who were the top seeds at the event.

The closest Bhupathi has got to an Olympic medal is when he and Paes lost an agonizingly close bronze medal playoff to Mario Ancic and Ivan Ljubicic at Athens 2004.

Sydney 2000

Manisha Malhotra and Nirupama Vaidyanathan

In 1998, Nirupama Vaidyanathan had become the first Indian player to feature in the women’s singles draw as she made it to the second round of the Australian Open.

She teamed up with Manisha Malhotra in women’s doubles for the Sydney Olympics in 2000. But the debutant Indian pair suffered a 0-6, 0-6 defeat to Australian sixth seeds Jelena Dokic and Rennae Stubbs.

Beijing 2008

Sania Mirza

Sania Mirza, who peaked at a career high of 27 in August 2007, played her first Olympics at Beijing 2008.

Her dream debut though turned into a nightmare as Mirza had to withdraw from the first round due to a wrist injury. The Indian star was trailing Iveta Benesova of the Czech Republic 1-6, 1-2.

Sunitha Rao

Sunitha Rao competed in the women’s doubles event along with Mirza. The Indian pair received a walkover into the second round, where they faced top seeds Dinara Safina and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Mirza-Rao couldn’t keep up with the quality and consistency of the Russians, and went down 4-6, 4-6.

London 2012

Somdev Devvarman

India’s top-ranked player at the time, Somdev Devvarman made his Olympics debut at London 2012 when the tennis event was held on the famed Wimbledon lawns.

He was coming off an eight-month injury layoff and couldn’t quite gather the strength. He went out 3-6, 1-6 to Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen in the opening round.

Vishnu Vardhan

Vishnu Vardhan got into the men’s singles draw as an alternate. The former India grasscourt national champion lost 3-6, 2-6 to Blaz Kavcic in the opening round.

However, Vardhan had a chance to team up with Paes in the men’s doubles. The pair, formed at the last minute, defeated experienced Dutch pros Jean-Julien Rojer and Robin Hasse 7-6, 4-6, 6-2 in the first round.

They battled it out against second seeds Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Michael Llodra in the second round before going down 6-7, 6-4, 3-6.

Rohan Bopanna

Rohan Bopanna, who had successfully made the transformation from singles to doubles by then, teamed up with Mahesh Bhupathi for the men’s doubles event.

Like Paes-Vardhan, they were also ousted in the second round by a French pair. Bhupathi-Bopanna lost 3-6, 4-6 to Richard Gasquet and Julien Benneteau.

Rushmi Chakravarthi

A well-known name on the Indian national circuit, Chakravarthi made her Olympic debut at the age of 33.

She competed in women’s doubles with Sania Mirza. The Indian pair went down 1-6, 6-3, 1-6 to Chia-Jung Chuang and Su-Wei Hsieh of the Chinese Taipei in the opening round.

Rio 2016

Prarthana Thombare

Thombare was Sania Mirza’s partner of choice in women’s doubles at Rio 2016.

Though they didn’t have a lot of experience playing together, Thombare-Mirza gave Shuai Peng and Shuai Zhang of China a real hard time. They lost out in three closely-contested sets.