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.