Dubai: Dubai will pay one final tribute to Indian tennis great Leander Paes on centre court on Thursday.
Paes, who has been a regular making 20 appearances in the 28 years of the event in Dubai, will be honoured with a final farewell on centre court, possibly before the 7pm match or after it. Partnering Matthew Ebden, Paes powered into the quarter-finals with a 6-4, 6-3 upset of second seeds Ivan Dodig and Filip Polasek on Tuesday.
Ramesh Cidambi, COO of Dubai Duty Free, owners and organisers of the annual Dubai Tennis Championships, said that Paes will be honoured with a specially made cake that will be cut by the 46-year-old Indian. There will be a specially made video on the Indian player’s career highlights that will be played on centre court, after which he will answer a few questions from Marcus Buckland, the official commentator. Earlier in the day, Paes will conduct a kids’ clinic featuring ball kids on centre court.
“Leander has been one of the greatest ambassadors for Dubai, for Dubai Duty Free and for this tournament in particular. We wanted to say thank you to him and the best would be to have him on a tennis court before fans, some of who absolutely love and adore him,” Cidambi told Gulf News.
“He’s got a huge presence here and I think we ought to acknowledge all that he has done for Dubai over the years through his close links with us,” he added.
Paes has been on the ATP Tour for the past three decades, and this year the Indian player decided to bring his prolonged career to an end with his farewell tour aptly named #OneLastRoar. During his 20 appearances in the men’s doubles in Dubai, Paes has won the title here twice — in 1998 with Mahesh Bhupathi and in 2003 with David Rikl. He has also finished runner-up on three occasions — in 2004 with Jonas Bjorkman, in 2010 with Lukas Dlouhy and in 2018 with James Cerretani.
On the international circuit, Paes has won an amazing 18 Grand Slam titles in the men’s and mixed doubles while picking up the year-ending ATP Tour Finals on four occasions. “Leander’s various records will stand testimony of what a great sportsperson he has been to India and to our tournament in Dubai,” Cidambi said.
Earlier this month, Paes played his last match in India while appearing at the Tata Open Maharashtra in Pune, where he partnered Australian Matthew Ebden to reach the quarter-finals.
Meanwhile, the Indian presence in the men’s singles came to an end when wild card Prajnesh Gunneswaran went down 4-6, 3-6 to qualifier Daniel Novak of Austria. “I needed to have served better, I got a greater percentage of first serves in, but I wasn’t doing enough with that to hurt him. He was returning deep, which means my serves were not hurting him enough,” he said.
“It was a close match, I had a few chances, we both had chances. When I went up that early break (in the first set), I played a loose game to give him back the break,” Gunneswaran admitted.