From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.35 :: NO.16 :: Apr. 19, 2012


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True grit

Leander Paes' exploits in doubles underline the fact that all he needs is a partner with a matching attitude and a strong pair of legs to tame the best on the circuit. By Kamesh Srinivasan.


What a slam! India's Leander Paes (right) and the Czech Republic's Radek Stepanek with the trophy after defeating Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan of the United States in the men's doubles final of the Australian Open.

He is the eternal hero of Indian sports. As he approaches his 39th birthday, Leander Paes, who has achieved a career Grand Slam in men's doubles and reached his 50th Tour title in Miami recently, has managed to project age as a positive factor. In a long tennis journey, the passage of time has only helped him accumulate ideas and wisdom, apart from a rich collection of trophies.

From the time he won the junior singles titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open more than two decades ago, Paes has nursed his passion for the game with admirable ease. He is still quick at the net and is thrilled to learn new tricks like the return of serve from top professionals such as Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia and Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic.

Right from a young age — when his family could just about afford the big expenditure with contributions from the sports loving fraternity and get the requisite foreign exchange for his training with the best of tennis professionals around the world — athleticism has been the basic foundation on which Paes has built his game. Even today he is very agile on court.

Paes is now looking to make his sixth successive Olympics in London memorable with a medal or two from the doubles and mixed doubles events. Paes, who won the bronze medal in singles at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 as a rank outsider, behind Andre Agassi and Sergei Bruguera, has been aiming for a medal in doubles at the Olympics for a long time.

He started his Olympic campaign in Barcelona in 1992 with Ramesh Krishnan and reached the quarterfinals. In the company of Mahesh Bhupathi, Paes came close to winning a medal in doubles in Athens in 2004, but the duo lost a marathon battle in the third-place play-off to Ivan Ljubicic and Mario Ancic of Croatia. At the last Olympics in Beijing, it took the combined brilliance of Roger Federer and an inspired Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland, the eventual gold medallists, to stop the Indian pair in the quarterfinals.

As he pursues his goal with vigour, time that runs briskly alongside takes a bow as it does not have the choice to dictate the level of Paes' achievements. His tennis and personality have matured with time and Paes has managed to hang on to his youthful exuberance on court in such a demanding game. The world of business may have been enticing him for long, and as a doting father he may wish to spend all his time with daughter Aiyana, but Paes has a lot of unfinished business on court. He wants to complete a career Grand Slam in mixed doubles and possibly win that elusive World Doubles title in the season-ending championship.

Paes, playing alongside Rohan Bopanna, may have tasted a bitter defeat in the doubles tie of the Davis Cup match against Uzbekistan recently, but he is a legend in world-wide team competition. For someone who does not have a well-rounded game, Paes could beat Goran Ivanisevic on grass and Henri Leconte on clay. On hard courts, he could beat World No.1 Pete Sampras. He may not have a big game to tackle the big boys of the circuit on even terms, but Paes has always had the heart of a champion. He does not allow size and reputation to intimidate him.

Paes has always enjoyed proving the pundits wrong — the ones who harp on the quality of his technique or the lack of it. By beating the Bryan twins, Bob and Mike, the world's No. 1 pair, repeatedly in recent weeks, Paes has underlined the fact that all he needs is a partner with a matching attitude and a strong pair of legs to tame the best on the circuit.

As he prepares for Wimbledon, the lovely grass arena, which is also the venue for the London Games, there is only one question in the minds of millions of anxious fans around the country: who would be his lucky partner? That says everything about the man and his pursuit of excellence.

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