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Drama on and off court for Paes and Stepanek

by Helen Gilbert
Thursday 3 July 2014

Pausing only to come to the rescue of a spectator, Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek fought their way into the semi-finals of the men's doubles.

It was two games all in the opening set when Paes reached for his ice-cold water bottle. He was on No.1 Court playing in the quarter-finals with Stepanek underneath a blazing sun that had pushed the mercury to 26 degrees centigrade.

This doubles business against the No.3 seeds Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic was certainly proving to be thirsty work. Except the liquid refuelling pit stop was not for his benefit, but that of a wilting spectator who appeared to have fainted behind the court. 

The eagle-eyed Indian had spotted the male onlooker, seated in a mid-tiered stand, wither in the scorching heat so he held up his hand to halt the match, yelled to a steward and alerted the umpire. 

Stepanek had been about to serve at 2-2 in the opening set when Paes noticed all was not well.

“When I went to the net I didn’t want that guy to distract Radek’s serve,” 41-year-old Paes said. “I first saw him sliding and I thought he was going to get out of his seat so I stopped initially to not distract Radek’s serve but then I actually saw him sliding down and fell down and I thought this guy has passed out. The usher who was there was actually facing the gangway on the outside so I screamed out to him and said ‘hey’, the usher came in, there were enough people there... I think he had some exhaustion.”

As the other competitors sought refuge from the blistering heat under umbrellas held up by the ball boys Paes, whose dad was a doctor, picked up an ice-cold bottle of water and ran the length of the court to pass it to a member of the crowd, who passed it to another and then another before it made its way to the right spot.

The heart-warming action drew a round of applause from the crowd; then again some moments later when the spectator seemed well enough to slowly rise to his feet. 

The match eventually resumed with both pairs employing an attacking net game, which brought up magnificent rallies. The turning point came in the second set tie break.

“The guys they came out and [were] very hot on their service games, they’ve been serving bombs, they’ve been all over us but we’ve been waiting for our small chance to sneak back into the match and that’s what happened in the second set tie break," Stepanek said. "I think from then on the momentum changed completely and we’d been in control".

Paes, who won the men’s doubles here 15 years ago, went on to serve out the match on his third match point with the No.5 seeds triumphing 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-4.

“We’re in the semis, the same position we were in last year and now [have] two big matches, one day at a time. It’s about doing the right things and to keep having fun," he added. 

The men will now face Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock in the last four after the Canadian/American duo ousted No.2 seeds Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares in front of a sprinkling of spectators on No.2 court.

After losing the first set, Soares complained to the umpire about the state of the court and questioned when it had been last inspected. 

Ultimately the Austrian/Brazilian pair made too many errors – 12 compared to their opponents’ seven – and served 12 double faults on their way to their 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(6), 6-4 defeat.

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