Leander Paes is looking ahead to life at 40 and after, honing his game for more Grand Slam doubles finals appearances and enjoying the hard miles to run to get there. Competing in seventh consecutive Olympic Games under the Indian flag is a target at the back of his mind.
So when a question pops up at sporting gatherings about Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement from cricket, the tennis ace is clear that achievers are made from a different mould. He spoke after a felicitation by Khar Gymkhana for the US Open doubles crown, partnering Radek Stepanek.
Leander said: “I have tremendous respect for Sachin (Tendulkar) and (Grandmaster) Viswanathan Anand, two contemporaries of mine, for what both have done. We were born around the same time and had the same sort of career journey.”
He added: “Sachin’s contribution in the world of cricket is phenomenal, the role model that he is. Vishy is fantastic in what he continues doing, being the number one in his sport. I enjoy watching both and think they can continue doing their thing.”
Leander expressed amazement at the Grandmaster’s dominance. “In the fast game of chess and regular game of chess, Vishy is amazing. I personally like him in the fast game where it shows how quick he thinks. The physical demands in chess are not appreciated as much.”
“Having known Vishy really closely through my years in Chennai, the training that he undergoes, the homework done to keep body and mind focused on his profession are why I respect him so much,” said the Indian, known for owning the fastest hands on men’s pro circuit.
Asked about the factors which drive him towards a seventh Olympics appearance at Rio 2016, Leander’s priority is to compete for the country. “Indian sport is at the crossroads at the moment, right now as we would still be competing under the IOC flag. I hope the issue is sorted out and we get to perform at the Olympics under our own flag.”
Czech partner Stepanek
Czech Republic’s Stepanek is a valued partner in Grand Slams, not eligible to be at his side at the Olympics where Leander needs to identify an Indian partner. “Rio is still three years away. For me it is about making sure I am ready, in the best playing condition, with my game and form when we get close to the
Olympics. At the end of the day, I can only do what is within my control.”
India’s only tennis medalist (men’s singles bronze at Atlanta 1996) is eyeing a doubles medal at Rio 2016 to wipe off negative memories of London 2012 when circumstances beyond control forced him to compete with inexperienced Vishnu Vardhan. “The last Olympics left a sour taste in my mouth and is still there. It is
probably one of the motivating factors to go to Rio.”
Learning from Lendl
Paes got in touch with Ivan Lendl at Cincinnati, prior to US Open 2013, about developing his baseline game. The Indian explains the circumstances leading to a long-term friendship with the Czech tennis icon, a three-time US Open men’s singles champion and current coach of Andy Murray.
He said: “I share a great relationship with Ivan Lendl over the years. When I was ranked number one junior in the world, I travelled with him for about two and half years, trained with him and Tony Roche (Lendl’s one-time coach) in Australia. It is a wonderful relationship with one of the game’s greats."
"I got in touch with him before the US Open at Cincinnati. We continuously have this ongoing dialogue. I guess our friendship is the wonderful part. It helped me ask the right questions and keep developing even at my age. I check out some players to develop a little bit on the serve, I go and watch matches to improve a little bit on the movement. It is a process of doing the right homework,” said the Indian, at 40 eager to learn from experts and hungry to sharpen his game.