Leander Paes – Indian tennis’ last man standing

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An emotional Leander Paes acknowledges the gang after enjoying his final match on the Indian soil on the ATP Challenger Tour’s Bengaluru Open earlier this week.
Picture Credit score: PTI

Dubai: When Leander Paes made his debut as a callow 17-year-old within the Davis Cup in 1990 – the world was a unique place. The Berlin Wall had been introduced down solely the 12 months earlier than, India had been but to undertake the journey in financial reforms below a sure Dr Manmohan Singh whereas cellphones had been unparalleled on this a part of the world.

Put your self in a time machine three a long time ahead and you continue to see Paes stomping across the court docket – another time for his farewell season which the star himself has named #Onelastroar. He’s now a 46-year-old well-groomed man, a touch of a pot stomach maybe the one concession to age, however nonetheless ploughing on with the identical quantity of earnestness – after 18 Grand Slam doubles titles, a report variety of Davis Cup wins and representing the nation in seven Olympics (sure, that’s proper). He’s additionally India’s solely Olympic medallist in tennis.

Now, how is that for longevity?

If you’re taking a look at our all-time nice singles gamers, Ramanathan Krishnan would come first, adopted by Vijay Amritraj after which Leander

– Zeeshan Ali

‘’It’s a bittersweet expertise to finally name it a day. Nonetheless, I might be very a lot related to the sport,’’ Leander mentioned throughout a chat on the telephone with Gulf Information. “It will likely be a payback time for me now as my purpose is to make India a wholesome nation and assist construct future champions,’’ he mentioned.

As Paes started the final leg of his wonderful, eventful – albeit typically controversial – a part of his profession, the inevitable query that will concern the tennis fan is that’s he India’s best-ever tennis participant?

Zeeshan Ali, the present Indian Davis Cup coach and who was Leander’s senior associate when he made his Davis Cup debut, was fairly goal in his evaluation. ‘’If you’re taking a look at our all-time nice singles gamers, Ramanathan Krishnan would come first, adopted by Vijay Amritraj after which Leander,” he mentioned. “Nonetheless, in case you are wanting on the best Davis Cup and doubles participant, then my reply is Leander unquestionably.”

The final roar has not begun on a very promising notice up to now – however for Leander, it’s extra about a chance to say thanks to his followers than something chasing private glory. He and Jelena Ostapenko, who had been wild card entries in combined doubles of Australian Open, bowed out within the second spherical. However Melbourne Park holds a variety of nice reminiscences for him anyway. “There’s nothing left for me to realize. I made my Grand Slam debut as a junior in Australian Open in 1989. So in impact, I used to be lucky to be enjoying there throughout 5 a long time — the Nineteen Eighties, Nineties, the brand new millennium, 2010 decade and now 2020,” mentioned Leander.

Early years

It’s not with out motive that Leander had been attributing his health and athleticism to the wonderful genes that he had obtained from his dad and mom – Dr Vece Paes and Jennifer Paes. Vece was a midfielder within the bronze-medal successful Indian hockey workforce on the 1972 Munich Olympics whereas mom captained the Indian basketball workforce in 1980 Asian Basketball Championship.

Born on June 17, 1973 in Kolkata, Leander began his education at La Martiniere Calcutta as he picked up a racket first at South Membership – lower than few kilometres from his dwelling at 31 Beckbagan Row.

A younger Leander along with his father, his pal, thinker, information and erstwhile supervisor – all rolled into one.
Picture Credit score: Courtesy: Dr Vece Paes

“Leander was a precocious athlete,” recalled his father Vece – a pal, thinker and information to the participant – in an interview with Gulf Information. “By the age of 4, he might swim and cycle and on the age of 5, he had developed his abilities in soccer and tennis apart from cricket, hockey and rugby. He was loopy about sport and even slept along with his soccer boots and tennis rackets on his pillow. Soccer was his old flame. Sadly, he had convulsions on the age of 9 and had to surrender contact sports activities.”

Below the watchful eyes of the Ali brothers, Akhtar and Anwar, a younger Paes started his hitting at South Membership and advisory periods with former Premjit Lal, one other Indian tennis legend from Kolkata. In 1985 on the age of 12, Leander was chosen for the Britannia Amritraj Tennis Academy (BAT) in Chennai. It was an emotional alternative for Leander to go away the household to hitch BAT – however their programme was the perfect out there within the nation.

Defining 12 months

Success within the home tournaments adopted and the conservative sports activities media in Chennai sat as much as take discover of this lithe child who used to signify the Madras Christian Faculty. The defining 12 months got here in 1990 the place Leander reached the finals of the Australian Open juniors, represented India within the Davis Cup in opposition to Japan and received Wimbledon juniors to finish the 12 months because the joint world No. 1 junior.

Tryst with Olympics

When Leander took half in his first Olympics at Barcelona in 1992 as a 19-year-old and misplaced in doubles quarter finals with Ramesh Krishnan – there was no approach one would dream that he may very well be taking a look at a possible eighth Olympics look at Tokyo someday.

Olympic information reveal that there have been solely a handful of athletes who’ve participated in additional Video games than Leander, comparable to Canada’s Ian Miller (equestrian, 10 Olympic Video games), Austria’s sailor Hubert Raudaschl and Latvian shooter Afanasijs Kuzmins (representing Soviet Union till 1988) who took half in 9 Video games every. Giving the trio their due, it have to be nevertheless mentioned Leander is in a unique league as he participated in a bodily sport for 10 months in a 12 months.

An emotional Leander Paes on the rostrum after successful the singles bronze medal at 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Picture Credit score: Courtesy: Dr Vece Paes

The sight of an overwhelmed Leander on the rostrum after successful the Olympics bronze in Atlanta in 1996 – the primary Indian to win a person Olympic medal since wrestler Okay.D. Jadav received a bronze in

1952 – pitched him to the standing of a nationwide hero. The sheer ardour of seeing the tricolour flutter has seen Leander relentlessly pursuing the nationwide responsibility throughout the a long time – be it Olympics, Asian Video games or the Davis Cup.

‘’Having been part of his journey during the last 31 years, I’m amazed on the depth he nonetheless brings in enjoying for the nation. He has at all times been out there to play for India, whereas stars like him have typically dropped out of workforce occasions like Davis Cup to prioritise on the Tour,’’ Zeeshan Ali famous.

A Davis Cup legend

It’s a no brainer that for all of Leander’s doubles exploits within the Grand Slams or a permanent journey by means of the historical past of Olympics, it’s the Davis Cup stage the place he has walked the tallest. He was massively instrumental in taking India to the semi-finals in 1993 with enormous upsets in opposition to Switzerland and France, finally shedding to Australia within the ultimate.

Leander Paes, an everyday on the Dubai Obligation Free Tennis Championships, obliges autograph hunters throughout his one in every of his visits.
Picture Credit score: Gulf Information archive

A take a look at a few of his scalps on this workforce occasion will inform its personal story as to how Leander typically punched above his weight to puncture greater reputations: French duo of Arnaud Boetsch and Henri Leconte (1993), South Africa’s Wayne Fereira (’94),Croatia’s Goran Ivanisevic (’95), Dutchman Jan Siemerink (’95) and Jiri Novak (’97).

:Information are supposed to be damaged however because of the new format of the ATP Cup, Leander’s Cup report will keep for ever. In 126 Davis Cup matches from 56 ties, he has 91 singles wins and 35 losses and has a world report of 44 victories in doubles,’’ identified Paes Snr.

The doubles run

The bronze at Atlanta Olympics was a pointer that Leander had it in him to be a powerful singles participant – although his lack of peak and the absence of a scorching first serve meant he needed to work further laborious along with his return and groundstrokes. His largest singles win on Tour got here in

1998 when he shocked the legendary Pete Sampras 6-3, 6-4 in New Haven at their solely assembly.

Nonetheless with the brand new millennium, Leander made a aware change for extra doubles play on the Tour and singles on the workforce occasions – and the outcomes began displaying. His affiliation with pal Mahesh Bhupathi, which the tennis media known as ‘Indian Specific’, proved an unstoppable one as they climbed to world No. 1 within the rating after being the primary Indian pair to win a doubles slam with each Wimbledon and French Open in 1999.

The Paes-Bhupathi pair, branded because the ‘Indian Specific’ by the followers, took the tennis world by storm once they received the Wimbledon and French Open crowns in 1999. It was the very subsequent 12 months once they determined to interrupt off as a pair – ending potentialities of ending as one of many best-ever doubles pairs.
Picture Credit score: Courtesy: Dr Vece Paes

The unlucky cut up between the mix quickly after – for causes

greatest recognized to them – meant Leander and Bhupathi had been left to compete

with separate companions within the subsequent a long time. Leander, in the meantime, struck gold in combined doubles too with a severe of illustrious companions comparable to Martina Navratilova, Cara Black and the previous world

No. 1 Martina Hingis. His haul of 18 Grand Slam titles (eight in males’s doubles and 10 in combined doubles) got here throughout a span of 17 years – the primary one coming with Bhupathi in 1999 and the final one with Hingis in

2016 when the French Open title helped him full a profession Grand Slam in combined doubles.

The Bhupathi cut up

It’s been one of many worst-kept secrets and techniques of Indian tennis when Leander and Bhupathi fell out – and the embarrassing a part of it was that each did a really unhealthy job of masking it in public. The physique language of the duo gave it away even once they had been collectively internet hosting a press convention and it’s additionally no secret that it had cut up the Indian tennis household into two camps – relying on which facet you had been on.

The rumblings had continued for years after they first drifted aside in 2000 and even once they got here collectively for a short whereas, the spark was lacking. The respective fathers, Dr Paes and C.G. Krishna Bhupathi, additionally bought caught within the crossfire.

Might the historical past of Indian tennis been written in another way with out their rift during the last twenty years? Paes Snr was candid about that: “Leander and Mahesh had been the perfect of pals and excellent doubles gamers – collectively and individually. They use to stay in every others’ pockets. Over time, their friendship bought jaded by over proximity and private ambitions and distrust took over their thoughts units.

The perfect reference for Leander and Mahesh ought to have been the Woodies (doubles pairing of Australians Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde). The 2 of them weren’t the perfect of pals and hardly communicated off the sector however they had been world champions for years

– Dr Vece Paes

“The perfect reference for Leander and Mahesh ought to have been the Woodies (doubles pairing of Australians Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde). The 2 of them weren’t the perfect of pals and hardly communicated off the sector however they had been world champions for years.

The defining 12 months for his or her partnership was once they reached the finals of the 4 grand slams in 1999 – successful two of them and in addition qualifying for world workforce championships. The next 12 months they broke aside though they rejoined briefly later, the belief and friendship was gone. The ‘Indian Specific’ began a variety of pleasure in India and on Tour and there have been opinions that they may have been the perfect ever. It’s unlucky, however then que sera que sera…’’

Troubled private life

The private lifetime of Leander noticed a variety of airing of soiled linen in public when, in 2014, mannequin Rhea Pillai with whom the participant was in a live-in relationship since 2005 filed a case at a Mumbai Metropolitan Court docket in opposition to the participant and his father below the Safety of Girls from Home Violence Act. Pillai, who’s 9 years older than Leander, alleged that the participant didn’t wish to give her the ‘dignity of a spouse’ whereas they prevented her from coming into their flat in Bandra to gather her belongings after their estrangement.

Issues bought nasty however Leander sought solace within the firm of her daughter Aiyana – now 13 – who was born out of their nine-year relationship.

The #Onelastroar that I’m doing is a tribute to my followers – although I have to say {that a} new chapter is starting

– Leander Paes

“My dedication in the direction of her is rising and he or she wants extra time from me. The #Onelastroar that I’m doing is a tribute to my followers – although I have to say {that a} new chapter is starting,” Leander mentioned in the course of the dialog.

What subsequent?

For somebody as enthusiastic about his occupation and concerned with it for 3 a long time (the one Indian sportsperson who got here anyplace close to his longevity was Sachin Tendulkar with 24 years in worldwide cricket), it received’t be actually simple to stay with out the sport.

A younger Leander poses along with his elder sister Jacqueline Paes – the household had at all times been an important supply of power for him.
Picture Credit score: Supply: Jacqueline Paes

“It’s been an especially emotional second for the household as we now have been very a lot part of his journey for 30 years. In actual fact, I had a lump in my throat when earlier than leaving for the Tour, he advised me that tennis is the one factor that I’ve and know,’’ recalled Jacqueline Paes, his elder sister who had been a pillar of power throughout his youth.

However then, he’s not going anyplace from the game. There’s a Leander Paes Tennis Academy within the pipeline whereas his greater objective is to construct the following era of athletes from the ‘’765 million children’’ within the nation – in his personal phrases. There are a number of different assignments on the playing cards like that of being a commentator and motivational speaker.

There’s by no means going to be a boring second then for Leander Paes – even when he’s off the court docket.

Profession highlights

* Received the junior Wimbledon and junior US Open earlier than turning skilled in 1991

* Defeated Fernando Meligeni to win the bronze medal on the 1996 Atlanta Olympics

* Awarded the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, the best sporting honour given by the Indian authorities, in 1996

* He has received 18 Grand Slam titles in all, eight in males’s doubles and the remaining 10 in combined doubles. His final Grand Slam title was the combined doubles crown, alongside Martina Hingis, within the 2016 French Open

* In 1999, he reached the ultimate of all 4 Grand Slams alongside Mahesh Bhupathi. They received the French Open and Wimbledon that 12 months and reached the world No. 1 doubles rating.

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