Print Edition - 2013-06-18  |  India Today

40 LOVE : Recapping Leander’s joyous run

- S. Kannan
40 LOVE : Recapping Leander’s joyous run

Jun 17, 2013-

They say life after 40 becomes a bit worrisome. Yet, if you have followed the life of Leander Adrian Paes, tennis superstar par excellence and India’s global ambassador, he will not be worrying about this on Monday. Having taken to tennis at a very young age after being weaned away from football—his first love—there has been no looking back for the Kolkatan.

To use a tennis parlance, ‘being on the road’ for over 25 years has not left Leander jaded. His zest for life and love for tennis has seen him scale several peaks which have been chronicled repeatedly. As one who broke the jinx of an Indian not winning an Olympics individual medal for 44 years, Leander shocked the global tennis fraternity at the Athens Games in 1996.

It is one medal which Leander and millions of his fans remember even today as it taught what it means to have faith in one’s own ability. Tennis is a sport where tall, muscular players with intimidating serves and strong strokes win matches. Leander never had any of these, though his electrifying reflexes, incredible volleys and slick footwork made the difference.

Stone Mountain Park in Atlanta was the venue where Leander made Olympic history but as a 17-year-old who won the boys’ singles title at Wimbledon in 1990, life has not been easy all the way.

Shortly after he won the title in Wimbledon, dad Vece Paes decided to pull him out of the Brittania Amritraj Trust Academy in Madras where he learnt the basics.

Unlike today, finances were hard to find and Leander went about building his career brick by brick. The odds were stacked against him in many ways, but for a man who has always believed in defying the odds, to surmount each challenge became a habit.

The way he carved up opposition in tennis’ best team event—Davis Cup—has become part of history. Not armed with a strong ATP ranking, time and again Leander would whack big players to register incredible wins for India.

The best came on grass at home with victories over Goran Ivanisevic in New Delhi, Wayne Ferreira and Jan Simmerink in Jaipur and Jakob Hlasek in Kolkata.

Away from home, Leander conjured magic in July 1993 in Frejus, France, as he carved up Henri Leconte and Arnaud Boetsch on the brick red clay.

Today, when you take the names of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi in one breath, one would immediately think of fights, bitterness and brawls. Having watched these two men win world-class doubles matches at home and away on every surface, I am dead sure Indian tennis will never ever have such a potent combination. The chemistry on court between them was natural, even though they were bickering over many things when they travelled together.

In the twilight of his career, Leander still speaks of one more shot at Olympic glory in Rio 2016. He will be 43 then but given his zest for playing tennis and the inability of any junior player to dislodge him from the team, don’t write off Leander.

Leander’s doubles skills are special as he has the knack of winning matches with almost any other player. Be it men’s doubles or mixed doubles, he has won a bucketful of titles.

The 1999 Wimbledon will remain special as this was the fortnight when he played a marathon number of sets. It resulted in a title win with Mahesh and on the same day another win with Lisa Raymond on the well manicured lawns of SW 19.

Tennis apart, Leander has made headlines time and again because of several controversies.

He is quintessentially the romantic relic who has had his share of dalliances with women at home and abroad. He adores his daughter Aiyana and it is clear as Leander has grown older, love has acquired a new dimension for him.

Just as die-hard cricket fans wish Sachin Tendulkar never fades away, tennis fans are mad about Leander Paes.

I think in all these years, if there is one thing about Leander which has not changed it is his work ethic and emphasis on staying fit. Did someone again say

40 carats?

 

Published: 18-06-2013 09:28

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