THE OLD WARHORSE
In an exclusive interview with MillenniumPost, veteran tennis star Leander Paes reminisces about his good old days, his special wins and much more
Cricket remains the predominant sport. In recent years, football has been gaining popularity due to the wide reach of ISL. What do you think is the fate of tennis in India?
It's great to see so many sporting leagues come up in the country. It started mainly with the IPL but has now seen growth across so many other sports. The growth of one sport helps the development of sporting in general. India is a vast country and we have the talent to excel in all areas. When it comes to tennis, I think it requires a lot of things to come together.
But I do believe leagues like the Tennis Premier League (TPL) will help us get there. Giving a platform for talented tennis players to shine, and investing in the sport, will definitely help further growth of the sport. It will also help get more stakeholders together and develop infrastructure for the sport at grassroots levels as well. I myself am looking at opening a high-performance centre in the near future to help nurture the best talent from across the country.
Which victory would be the greatest comeback you have made?
I think it would be the quarter final victory in the 1993 Davis Cup against France on clay. No one thought we had a chance!
What do you think are the measures to promote the game across different Indian cities?
I think more access to watch the sport is step one. You follow current stars like Federer, Djokovic, Nadal, and you want to go out and emulate them. It is then down to providing the people more avenues to play with. Setting up grassroots activities is again key to having people involve themselves in the game from a young age. Of course, leagues like the TPL get people to go out and support their local team and watch their local stars grow.
Could you throw some more light on the exclusiveness of the Tennis Premier League (TPL)?
TPL is back with season 2 this year which shows they are on the right track! It'll be interesting to see the growth and where the league goes in the years to come. I'm looking forward to this season!
In a career spanning around 30 years, can you tell us a few experiences that changed your perspective towards life?
Pointing out any one experience in 30 years is tough. But I do remember this one time in Germany, when I was still new on the circuit. I was on my last few Euros and didn't have any place to stay. I approached the locker room attendant, and between his German and my English, we came to an understanding. He gave me three towels, one to roll up as a pillow, one to spread out as a bed, and one for a blanket. He then told me he'd be back at 6 am to wake me up so I could get out before the other players started coming in. It wasn't a big deal for that attendant, but for me it was everything at that point. I've always been one to value relationships, but this act of kindness has always stayed with me. In the end life is all about cultivating friendships and being kind to one another. And I have been fortunate to create some amazing bonds on and off the court, over the 30 years on tour.
What according to you has been your greatest feat?
Well it's tough to pick because every win is special. Record Davis Cup doubles wins while representing the country was a special feeling, and the latest big win. There's been 18 grand slams with a lot of special partners, and across a lot of key moments in my life. But I'll always have a soft spot for the Olympic win in 1996. I grew up ironing my Dad's Olympics jersey, and to win an Olympic medal, and join that elite club, was an incredible feeling. To listen to the national anthem playing while standing on the podium is a memory that I will cherish forever.
What could be the reasons that the domination of Big Three still remains intact!
The commitment towards their sport, the discipline and sacrifice. Always wanting to be the best they can be, and of course, each other!