Mahesh Bhupathi has won his fifth Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships title with his fifth different partner. The 38-year-old Indian teamed up with France’s Michael Llodra for the first time this week.
Bhupathi and Llodra defeated third seeds Robert Lindstedt and Nenad Zimonjic 7-6(6), 7-6(6) in Saturday’s evening final at the Dubai Tennis Stadium.
The pair, who dropped two sets in four matches this week, split $126,900 in prize money and earned 500 Emirates ATP Doubles Team Rankings points.
Bhupathi is now 32-10 overall in Dubai, winning titles in 1998 (w/Paes), 2004 (w/Santoro), 2008 (w/Knowles) and 2012 (w/Bopanna). He is 52-43 in doubles finals, while 32-year-old Llodra lifts his second title of 2013 (also Montpellier) and his 25th crown overall.
“It’s like playing at home here," said Bhupathi. "I’ve got so many friends and so much family. I used to live here for so many years. It’s great to come back. The Indian support is obviously tremendous. Playing on that court before the final, it’s an amazing atmosphere.”
Lindstedt saved two break points in the opening game, as Bhupathi hit the feet of the net-rushing Swede on return. In the fourth game, Bhupathi lost his serve on a sudden death deuce when Zimonjic returned low.
Lindstedt served for the set at 5-3, but fell to 15/40 mainly due to first volley errors. But the 35 year old bounced back with well-placed serves. On sudden death deuce, Llodra celebrated the break after firing a winning forehand return to Lindstedt’s feet.
In the tie-break, Lindstedt and Zimonjic took a 6-3 lead but three set point opportunities went begging. Bhupathi played a clever crosscourt backhand that left Zimonjic stranded at 6-6 and then Llodra struck a smash winner to conclude a dramatic 47-minute set.
“[We were] lucky to win it (the first set), I think,” said Bhupathi. “I didn’t play a good game at 1 all and lost serve. I think we played a good game at 5-3 to break. They had their chances. Mika hit a great volley at 3-6 down in the tie-break. They had a really good return, and he came up with a big shot. Again, it was the small points that counted today.”
In the second set, Bhupathi saved two break points in the third game. Lindstedt and Zimonjic began to rush, causing errors close to the net, but they remained in touch. At 2-3, Lindstedt saved a break point at 30/40 with an ace and powerful serve on sudden death deuce. It gave the team confidence.
Bhupathi and Llodra recovered from a 1-3 deficit in the tie-break by winning five straight points. But Lindstedt earned a set point with an ace at 5-5. Zimonjic hit a forehand return into the net. Bhupathi and Llodra took a 7-6 lead. On their first championship point, Llodra hit a powerful crosscourt return, which left Zimonjic scrambling. The Serbian’s response that went straight to Bhupathi at the net, left Lindstedt stranded.
“It’s unbelievable to play in this stadium,” said LLodra. “It was full. An unbelievable atmosphere. So that’s why we play tennis, to play this kind of match. Of course if you can win it, it’s better.”
Zimonjic won the 2007 Dubai title (w/Santoro), while Lindstedt also finished runner-up in 2009 (w/Damm). Zimonjic, 36, dropped to 47-31 in doubles final. Lindstedt to 17-18.
Lindstedt and Zimonjic shared $57,300 in prize money and 300 points.