In his career spanning over two decades, India’s tennis ace Leander Paes has seen loads of controversies, but by his own admission, none would have hurt him more than the Olympics selection fiasco.
While the country’s tennis lovers continue to discuss that ugly episode at every little off-court gathering even today, Paes is grateful to have happily got over it long ago. “I don’t want to dwell into that right now because I don’t want to relive those memories. At the end of the day, my racquet did the talking. A lot of good has happened to me since. The recent Shanghai Masters win was wonderful,” Paes told MiD DAY yesterday in his first elaborate interview since the London Olympics.
The six-time Olympian spoke at length on various topics including a phenomenal season, the upcoming World Tour Finals and his future role as a player-cum-mentor to India’s Davis Cup team. Most importantly though, the 39-year-old is hopeful that the country can produce more tennis stars, who can make a name for themselves and the nation in the near future. His earnest wish is that he does not remain India’s only tennis Olympic medalist. Excerpts
How do you look back at this season?
It’s been a phenomenal season for me. It started perfectly with a win at home at the Chennai Masters with (Janko) Tipsarevic. It’s always wonderful to play and win in India in front of the home fans but unfortunately we don’t have enough tournaments here. The other highlight of the year has to be the completion of the doubles career Grand Slam with the Australian Open title. It was great to go into the history books with that one. I hope I can get my hands on the mixed career Slam now — I’ve got the French Open to conquer for that one. Also, the Miami Masters title has to be special as it was the third consecutive time doing it and that too with different partners each time — Lukas (Dlouhy) in 2010, followed by Mahesh (Bhupathi) the next year and then Radek (Stepanek) this time. Of course I lost in a couple of big finals too — Wimbledon mixed doubles with Elena (Vesnina) and US Open men’s doubles with Radek — but that’s the way it is, you win some, you lose some on today’s extremely competitive international tennis circuit.
Do you wish the Olympics selection mess hadn’t happened?
I like to look at the positive things in life rather than dwell on the negatives. For me, that (selection issue) is over and done with. But if you look at the consequence of it, I’ve found a good partner in someone like Vishnu Vardhan. He’s a great find not only for me but also for the country. I’m sure he’ll do well for India in future.
Speaking of the Davis Cup, for how long do you see yourselves doing national duty? Is another Olympics a possibility?
I’d like to answer the second question first. At the moment, I’m totally motivated to play my seventh Olympics. I think I still have a few years of tennis in me. But only time will tell if I can or will represent India at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. However, the hunger’s definitely there. As for the Davis Cup, I hope I can keep playing in it forever… but honestly, I’m at an interesting transition phase with the Davis Cup right now. While I would love to see India’s young tennis brigade take centre stage and play more often, I also realise that I’m the country’s best (ranked) doubles player at the moment, so I will have to continue contributing on court too. But looking at the broader picture, in the long run, I see myself playing the role of a mentor to this young Indian Davis Cup team.
Some say India will never find apt replacements for players like you and Mahesh. Do you agree?
I wouldn’t want to agree with that. There is a lot of talent in this country. It’s all about giving them the right opportunities. I hope I don’t remain India’s only Olympic tennis medalist for long. I’d love to see someone else also bring laurels to the country at the Games. Youngsters like Somdev (Devvarman), Yuki (Bhambri), Sanam (Singh) and of course Vishnu hold a lot of promise and potential. All they need is some good guidance. I’d love to continue being the go-to guy for these young chaps. I’m just a phone call away and all the guys know that. In fact, tonight I’m planning to take some of the boys playing at the CCI-ITF event out to dinner. I love interacting with enthusiastic youngsters.
So, what’s next on the Tour for you?
I’m definitely looking forward to the World Tour Finals in London next month. Radek is great fun to play with and we’ve done well this year, so hopefully we can carry our form into the O2 Arena. If I can get my hands on this one, my trophy cabinet will be complete.