Dubai: Leander Paes turns 39 next year, but the Indian tennis star has no plans to quit the sport yet.
“Getting to 39 and winning Grand Slams and getting to the finals of Grand Slams and finals of Masters Series when most of my teammates and contemporaries have already retired 12 years ago: It is things like that that keep me happy and keep me living this lifestyle,” Paes told Gulf News after winning the doubles crown with Czech partner Radek Stepanek at the Shanghai Rolex Masters earlier this month.
“Professional tennis or sport is always something that’s tough, but at the same time it’s a clean and healthy lifestyle. And if you know how to make it enjoyable, then it’s a great lifestyle,” he added.
After turning professional in 1991, Paes has been easily one of the most famous sporting figures from India having represented the country at an amazing six Olympic Games – winning a bronze medal at the Atlanta Games in 1996 to give India its first medal since 1980 and the first individual medal since 1952.
However, his longevity in tennis is due to the constant backing he has received from an unchanged support team surrounding him. “I love playing for my fans and my team. My dad’s [Dr. Vece] been my doctor my whole life. My fitness trainer Dave Herman has been with me for 21 years, my tennis coach Rick Leach has been with me 19 years and my yoga master and confidant Sanjay Singh has been with me for 22 years. These are the guys who have been my team and they’ve been amazing,” he said.
Paes’s short-term goals include doing well at the Barclays ATP Men’s Tour Final in London next month followed by an even more ambitious season next year along with his doubles partner Radek Stepanek. “It’s been a phenomenal year with Radek and most people know what an awesome tennis player he is. For me, he is one of those people I hold dear in my life and he has been one of the most successful partners that I’ve in view of of our results,” he admitted.
“I’ve had 97 or 98 different doubles partners over the past 26-27 years and each of them have been special in their own way. I can always learn new things from Radek,” Paes added.
So how much longer does he want to be on the Tour? “As long I am having fun,” he said.
“And as long as I keep enjoying it and staying happy, going out there and performing at the top. What I have done so far stands as a testimony to what I have achieved. I have six Olympics under my belt, far more than any athlete has done for India. And going to Rio in 2016 would be fun,” Paes added.
But his career has not always gone smoothly, including the controversy he became embroiled in prior to the London Olympics when former doubles partner Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna refused to partner him.
“We’ll deal with that later. Right now I have something more important to focus on and that is the Masters in London. That’s my focus. I love playing for my country. I’ve always done it and my record speaks for itself,” he said.
The lowdown on Leander
The Britannia Amritraj Tennis Academy in Chennai played a crucial role in Leander Paes’s tennis career.
He shot to international prominence after winning the 1990 junior Wimbledon and US Open titles while also rising to No. 1 in the junior world rankings.
Paes has lined up a career after his tennis. He is set to make a debut in Ashok Kohli’s socio-political thriller Rajdhani Express, where he will act as a terrorist named Keshav.
Paes has one singles title to his name, which came in July 1998 when he defeated South African Neville Godwin to win the Newport Open in Rhode Island, USA.
His success in doubles has translated into seven Grand Slam men’s titles, six Grand Slam mixed crowns and 13 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments in a career spanning more than two decades.
He is the recipient of India’s highest sporting honour, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award in 1996-1997; the Arjuna Award in 1990 and the Padma Shri award in 2001 for his outstanding contribution to tennis is India.
Paes completed the career grand slam in men’s doubles after winning the Australian Open earlier this year.
His exploits for India in Davis Cup campaigns over the years are legendary. He is the only Indian tennis player to win an individual medal in tennis when he claimed bronze at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.
Paes also achieved the rare men’s doubles/mixed doubles double at Wimbledon 1999.
His consecutive Olympic appearances from 1992 to 2012 make him the first Indian and one and only tennis player to compete at six Olympic Games (shooters Karni Singh nd Randhir Singh have competed in five Olympic Games each).
After winning the mixed doubles Wimbledon title in 2010, Paes became only the second man after Rod Laver to win Wimbledon titles in three different decades.