PARTAB RAMCHAND | 9 APRIL, 2018
There is Something Special About Leander Adrian Paes
Davis Cup win
He will turn 45 in June but in his case there is no talk of retirement either from him or from the tennis fans around the country. And why should there be for Leander Adrian Paes is still winning titles around the ATP circuit and still winning matches for India in the Davis Cup. But even for him his latest achievement is something very special for it made him the most successful doubles player in the history of the Davis Cup - and the competition was first played in 1900!
In going past Italian legend Nicola Pietrangeli mark Paes erased a 46-year-old record. Pietrangeli was his country’s leading player in the fifties and sixties. He led his country to the Davis Cup final in 1960 and 1961 and was good enough to make it to the semifinals at Wimbledon in 1960 besides winning the French Open twice.
With Orlando Sirola he formed a formidable doubles combination and his mark of 42 doubles victories in the Davis Cup seemed insurmountable. But then with the ageless Paes nothing is impossible. The evergreen hero of Indian tennis just keeps going on and on and with 43 victories he now stands at the pinnacle.
It was Paes along with Rohan Bopanna who commenced India’s fightback in the just concluded tie against China. Down 0-2 and virtually out after the opening singles it needed a miracle for India to turn the tables and the first glimmer of hope was given by the doubles victory. As he has done so often in the past Paes provided the inspiration and then Ramkumar Ramanathan and Prajnesh Gunneswaran won both the reverse singles to complete a remarkable turnaround.
It was only the second time in Indian Davis Cup history that the team had converted a 0-2 deficit into a 3-2 triumph the first being against Brazil in the World Group play off tie at Chennai in 2010.
By any standards Paes’ achievements are phenomenal. He has been going strong for 28 years ever since he first attracted attention by becoming only the third Indian to win the junior Wimbledon title in 1990 following in the footsteps of Ramanathan Krishnan (1954) and Ramesh Krishnan (1979).
The cynics might say that Paes is playing only doubles and his singles record (except in the Davis Cup) is nothing much to write home about. But it is not easy to keep going at his age in a highly competitive sport. It must also be emphasized that he is not just winning ATP Tour doubles titles but also Grand Slams. He has eight doubles and ten mixed doubles Grand Slam titles.
He has a career Grand Slam in both men’s doubles and mixed doubles. His mixed doubles Wimbledon title in 2010 made him only the second man (after Rod Laver) to win Wimbledon titles in three decades. His victory in the mixed doubles at the French Open in 2016 made him at 43 the oldest to win a Grand Slam title.
At times like this I am reminded of my first meeting with Paes. In 1988 I entered the Madras Christian College High School campus in Madras which housed the Britannia Amritraj Tennis (BAT) programme courts. Chief coach Dave O’Meara greeted me warmly and in the course of our chat he pointed out to a 15-year-old practicing on one of the courts and informed me that he was a new recruit from Calcutta and was regarded as a player of much promise being the son of former hockey international Vece Paes. That was my introduction to Paes. He came across as a cultured, well behaved lad but even then one couldn’t mistake his hunger to taste success.
Now 30 years later he is still continuing to do what he does best – playing tennis to the best of his ability, regaling the audience with his athleticism on court, inspiring his teammates and proudly carrying India’s flag – and hopes - when it comes to the Davis Cup or the Olympics. One of the most abiding memories in Indian sport is the photograph of Paes shedding tears of joy at winning the bronze medal at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 – the first individual medal for the country at the Games since boxer KD Jadav’s bronze at Helsinki in 1952.
The simple reason for Paes’ longevity is that he loves the game as he has reminded us over and over again. ``I started when I was very young. I have been doing it my whole life. For me putting in so much effort into a sport that has given me so much is a joy.’’
You must enjoy whatever you are doing for a living. That’s the secret of being successful. And that is obviously Paes’ recipe for success too. More than fifty doubles titles are a testimony to this. It’s amazing really that after almost three decades Paes has neither lost his hunger for success nor his impish sense of humour. ``I love this game. How many people do you know come to the office with shorts on,’’ he jokes.
The point is that you can never really write Paes off even as he has emerged as the ``Grand Old Man’’ of Indian tennis. Just when everyone has written him off he comes up with one of his exhilarating displays. There is no question of taking his foot off the accelerator. ``Age is just a number’’ he says when reminded that he is in his mid forties in a sport in which the 20-something call the shots. ``It really doesn’t matter how old you are. If you can keep yourself fit and strong you can keep raising the bar and set new goals and records’’ he said in an interview a while ago and that is what he has repeatedly done.
It has not exactly been a smooth ride for Paes. He has had his share of setbacks and disappointments. A few years ago he was the target of an open revolt by members of the Davis Cup squad and had the captaincy snatched away from him. His misunderstandings with Mahesh Bhupathi have been well chronicled. Just last year he was called upon to join the Davis Cup team all the way from the USA and at the last moment was told his services were not required. All this has hurt him no doubt but when Paes is on a tennis court he has this happy knack of putting the seamier aspects behind him.
Oh yes, as long as he is around Indian tennis fans will have a something to cheer about as they did just the other day.
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