Leander Paes on how to become a slam champ at 38

Feb 05, 2012, 07:15 IST | Leander Paes

2012 Australian Open doubles winner, Leander Paes tells Sunday MiD DAY how he manages to be a Slam champ at 38

2012 Australian Open doubles winner, Leander Paes tells Sunday MiD DAY how he manages to be a Slam champ at 38

What does it takes to win a Grand Slam at 38? For one, it takes a very healthy lifestyle that obviously comprises no alcohol and cigarettes. Then, it takes some very tedious fitness training to keep both, mind and body fit at all times. It's all about keeping the mind and body subtle with yoga and stretching.

Champion tennis player Leander Paes with some of his silverware.
Pic/Pradeep Dhivar Location courtesy: Sofitel BKC Mumbai

It's about keeping the cardio levels up. With age, anticipation gets better, but given the general biomechanics, reaction time gets slower. So, the trick is to enhance that reaction time with keeping up those energy levels. All this can happen only with continuous training and practice. If you saw my doubles partner Radek (Stepanek) making all those whipping forehand volleys, it's all thanks to the hours and hours of practice that he's put in over that last 20 days or so.

Practice alone can help you beat the best, and our Australian Open men's doubles finalists - World No 1 Mike and Bob Bryan were right up there. It's also very important to keep the body injury-free over a long time. In this regard, I'm very lucky now to be at a level where I can pick and choose my tournaments. I don't have too much for as many as 42 weeks in a year as I used to not too long ago. I'm very choosy about peaking for the four Grand Slams or for other big occasions like Davis Cup, the Olympics or the Asian Games.

Picking one's goals for the year is most important now. And then of course, there are more challenges that come at you like when you are in two finals in the same Slam which l was, in Melbourne recently (men's doubles and mixed doubles finals). It has happened to me a few times in my career and I've enjoyed it all the same. That's the beauty of tennis. It's very real because the rankings change every Monday, so I know where I stand every day of the year.

Some don't believe rankings and while I do, I'm a bigger believer in the history books which show you where you stand. At the end of the day, critics can say what they want, but the history books don't lie.  

On the physical training front, I do a lot of stretching and yoga every day. I also indulge in a lot of cross training. When I'm in Mumbai, I have a set of sports journalist friends with whom I play a round or two of football at different venues.

Playing any team sport keeps the mind and body ticking. I also keep practising my Ujay breath - it's a form of breathing exercise from the Art of Living that I learnt at the age of 12. It helps reach maximum oxygen to my muscles and brain, helping them function better and that contributes to overall longevity too.

Handling controversies is also a very important part of being in the public eye all the time. I do it by taking everything with a pinch of salt. I have the ability to laugh at myself and that, I think, has gone a long way in helping me handle everything that life has thrown at me. I believe every controversy is a learning experience and it's never about who's right or who's wrong. But there have been times when I've craved for some privacy.

Wanted to retire... thrice
The thought of retirement has occurred to me not once or twice, but thrice. The first time when I was 19 and fed up with all the travelling in extremely cold European winters and especially at times when I struggled to make ends meet.

Then, when I was 30, and down with a life-threatening ailment - a tumour in my head -- I felt like quitting. I felt like retiring about three years ago too. My daughter Aiyana was a toddler then and I missed being around. I missed all those special occasions with her and the loneliness on tour really got to me. I thought of giving it all up and coming home to my family. But I hung in there eventually because I felt I still had so much in me to give.

And going by the number of Slams and titles I've won in the last few years, I don't think I was wrong. I always told my self that if I wake up 31 days in a row not enjoying what I'm doing, then I'm done. And believe me, I've come very close to it a few times -- once it went on for three weeks and I almost quit. As for what the future holds for me, I'm not sure. But there's one thing I'm sure of and that's the exact time when I will retire! --
As told to Ashwin Ferro

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