Paris: Leander Paes was just two weeks away from his 46th birthday on Friday when he won his opening doubles match at the French Open along with Frenchman Benoit Paire.
This made him the oldest man to win a men’s doubles match at Roland Garros in the Open Era.
“I’ve been around for 30 years, I’ve been around a long time. I’ve seen 12 generations. I’ve seen guys like (Pete) Sampras here, I’ve seen guys like (Pat) Rafter,” he said after the match.
Paes’ longevity has often mystified some of the best players in the world.
“I think in the locker room I have this respect,” he said. “I was just coming back and Rafa (Nadal) and Uncle Toni (Nadal’s former coach) were walking in and Uncle Toni was like, ‘Leo, you’re 46?’ I said ‘Oui’. You played for the first time at Roland Garros in 1989 (juniors)? In 1989 you played?’. I said ‘Oui’. ‘I saw you won the first set, did you win?’ ‘Oui’.
“He said ‘woah, it’s incredible. Hey Rafa, 46 years old and he’s still playing and winning’.
“For me, this is beautiful, because Rafa is one of the greatest of all time. Toni is one of the great tennis minds of all time.
“And to have the relationship I have with all the players, to have the respect from all the locker room, it takes many years of hard work.”
Paes has come a long way since that campaign in 1989, and his victims in the intervening years have included a young Roger Federer in Indian Wells qualifying. He has won the French Open four times.
“Tennis has been a beautiful journey for me, I’ve been very blessed to have such a long career. Especially here, to win this four times,” he said.
Paes said that he has no plans to stop any time soon and that he looks forward to taking part in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. At Rio 2016, became the only tennis player to have participated in seven Olympic Games.
“It (the Olympics) is a long way away. I’ve already got the world record at the Olympics. Now to push it up one more would be amazing,” he said.