Leander Paes (TOI Photo)
CHENNAI: At the end of 2019, veteran Leander Paes planned to bid adieu to tennis and earmarked 2020 as his swansong season. With many coveted trophies already in his cabinet, the legend planned to play a record 8th Olympics in Tokyo before calling time on his long career.
Unfortunately, fate had other plans. With Covid-19 plaguing global sports, the Olympics was postponed by a year and the delay meant that Leander was ready to play another year on the circuit. But with news that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) would cancel this edition of the Olympics if it cannot be held next year, Leander’s final hurrah moment hangs in the balance.
“If the Tokyo Olympics is cancelled then I have already played my last Olympics in Rio. I am not going to wait for the next Olympics,” Leander told Purav Raja in an Instagram chat on Sunday.
Reminiscing about his career, Leander said that he believes that he has influenced Mahesh Bhupathi‘s career but chooses Rohan Bopanna‘s serve over Bhuapthi’s backhand. “God Mahesh had killer backhand as an ad court player, it was world class but if I had to choose between the two I would definitely go for Rohan’s serve. His serve is one of the best I have seen on tour and it’s a weapon,” Leander said.
When asked who was the better mixed player between Martina Navratilova and Martina Hingis, Leander said that he would choose Hingis over Navratilova by a small margin. “Hingis complimented my style and I could play my natural game with her. She allowed me to be the leader and I could just take over the net. Navratilova, on the other hand, led me through and always guided me. She was the leader in our team,” the 47-year old said.
Leander has lived out of a suitcase for many years now and shared the experience of what was according to him the worst playing conditions. “I remember we played China in a city called Lang Fang in 2001. It was mid-February and it was snowing outside. Though we played in an indoor court, they had turned off the heater saying that it was broken. On top of everything we were not even given proper food during the tie. I had asked for some fried rice and got some snake meat instead. It was definitely a nightmare for me,” he said.
A few weeks ago, 2013 Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli came under attack when she said that reduction in tour-level doubles events would allow more prize money to be funneled toward Challenger players. “I just don’t understand because in doubles, you just don’t make the same effort as a singles player,” she had said.
Talking about the incident, Leander said that Bartoli was way out of line. “I know Bartoli personally and I don’t know why she said that. She is probably unaware of the struggles a doubles player faces. But as a former player it was very unprofessional of her.”
Leander has never minced his words and when asked if he thought demonetisation to be a success, the veteran replied in negative. “Look at our economy. It was failing before Corona struck us and it has become worse. I think if we are on the right path it will take us another 2-3 years to just recover from this. So I don’t think demonetisation was a successful move.”
Asked how he wants to be remembered once his playing days are over, Leander did not hesitate. “I want to be known as someone who has made a difference.”