Living Life at a Lee-surely Paes

The ace tennis player opens up to Daniel Thimmayya on what the future holds for him

Published: 04th January 2014 04:20 AM  |   Last Updated: 04th January 2014 10:46 AM   |  A+A-


Leander Paes has very few reservations in life. But then again, you wouldn't either if you were the sixth best doubles tennis player in the world at the ripe old age of 40. Having battled controversy, Czech tennis stars, politics and practically everything else that the system could conjure up, India's favourite tennis star opened up before he left Chennai for the Australian Open. And it's evident he doesn't mince words.

Most tennis players complain about the city's heat even in December. But you're not an stranger to Chennai are you?

I've lived here for 5 years. When you live here for that long you get used to the heat. I grew up here.

So well that you still remember your way around town?

I've lived here, man. The roads don't change, they're pretty much the same. The one ways only happened 5-6 years ago. I'm a trained driver man, but nothing can train you for Indian roads — the snakes, the cows, the dogs and the autos. The autos are something else. They bug the hell out of me. You never know which way they're going because they can turn on a 360 degree swivel. You never know what they're going to do when they're on the roads - when they're fast they're going straight, but when they're slow, it's anybody's guess.

And your Tamil seems decent

I speak decently well, but I can understand everything. If I live here for a month again, I can pick up Tamil quite easily.

So you know what to say if somebody scratches your car?

Good luck to them! I won't have to say anything, they'll have to answer to my security.

It's a pity your partner pulled out and took you out of the tournament

It's unfortunate what happened here this time. I think there should be a mechanism for people to play if their partner pulls out. Guys shouldn't be allowed to switch (partners) in the second, third round, but at least in the beginning.

You really do think a lot about your partners then?

Sometimes to a flaw. And then they turn back and take it for granted and that's not cool. I have won with most of them and grand slams at that. Long story short is, I've had a great career, I've loved the relationships I've had

It's been a year since you acted in Rajdhani Express. We hear there's a Hollywood project on the cards

I think if the right project, people and the script come along. I'm working on a couple of things now, but it's too early to speak about it. The right people would interest me. I'd rather do the work and then speak about it.

In hindsight, would you have rather not acted in Rajdhani Express, given how people called it a train wreck?

I'm never scared of anything. The results (of Rajdhani Express) were not what anyone would want. At the end of the day it was a great experience, to see what life was as an actor, behind the camera. If they (film's makers) had managed to bring out 75% of what the script promised, it would have been a fabulous movie.

Did you ever imagine movies would happen?

I never thought of it when I was young. It came my way and I did it.

You’re one of the country’s longest running sporting icon. Do kids still recognise you?

You’re telling me I’m old, is it? (Laughs) All the time! In the older generation, most people recognise me, and in my parents generation 100% everyone knows me, but with the younger generation, the kids are like ‘is it him, is it not him’. We live through six generations in our lifetime, so that’s a lot of people!

Leander-Paes.jpgOnce they know you, kids seem to love you though

I love kids! I love interacting with them and giving them an opportunity to have a better chance in life, either through a liberal arts education or a formal education. Teach them a vocation, you know?  For all of us who are blessed enough to raise our kids right, we need to take it forward. Especially here in India, where I believe, every kid that you take off the streets and teach a vocation, you’re creating one less rapist, robber and murderer. Look what’s happening in Delhi, in Bombay, even Puducherry, it's barbaric.

Let’s talk tennis. Last year wasn’t one of your best

Last year was the hardest of my life. I’m glad I can call 2013 last year, by the way. 2012 was amazing.

No retirement then? You’re game for more grand slams?

I’m always ready for a big win. That’s my lifestyle. I have to look after my partners and Fognini would have been 96. I keep myself ready and ready to play grand slams, but now it’s become about looking after my partners. It’s now about focusing on partners, focusing on them being fit, focusing on them getting a fast reflex volley when it’s 4-4. It’s not like we can say ‘redo’.

But people have been backroom chatting about pulling curtains on your career

It’s definitely not (over). Let them talk, it’ll take the pressure off!

You’ve been one of the more flamboyant Indian tennis stars. Do you believe there are things out there you haven’t done?

There are many things I want to do. I’m an adventurous guy and I live with my passion. I love my family and have a great relationship with most people. If there’s one kid out there who takes to tennis and is better for it, then my job is done.

Some people would disagree

I’m not out there to be a polished, soda-pop, candy-floss kinda guy. I’m me. I have my flaws. This is how I am and I live my life to the fullest and to the best I can. I don’t live by society’s norms. I don’t care about what people want and expect me to do. I take advice and I take constructive criticism and I’m open to it. It doesn’t mean I’m right or wrong, if it works, take it. Paravalla (Tamil for it’s ok).

You’ve been open about your life. The parties, the fun, the tennis. Do you find it difficult to stay relevant at 40?

I’ve been blessed. I’ve been in 31 grand slam finals. I’ve been number one. I don’t need to talk about the stuff I’ve done. At 40, I keep reinventing myself. And that’s why I enjoy what I do. I had that guy (points) who’s a Wimbledon champ come to me and say ‘Lee, we’re sorry about what Fognini did. I wish we could’ve played you’. To me, that respect is what makes it count. That’s the part of life I love.

You could’ve moved anywhere in the world, but you’ve kept a strong Indian connect

At the end of the day, I’m an Indian boy and I have Indian blood. I’ve had a home in Florida for 20 years. But as a professional - tennis player, actor, whatever, if I need to relocate to enhance my business I would do it. My dream is to get the Oscar, as an actor. But there’s no sense in dreaming that dream while sitting in Mumbai: unless you’re Aamir Khan and even then it’s an outside chance. Whatever it takes to be a perfectionist, you must do it. I left home at the age of 12 to come to Chennai. How many kids would do that even today?

You’re 40 now. Where do you think you’ll be ten years from now?

Who knows? What I do know is I will be having a bash. I’m very instinctive. I will be having fun with what I do. I will be looking after my family and will be catching up on time that I have missed out on. You know, since I was 12 I haven’t spent a single birthday at home. My parents, my sisters all of them do a lot of things for Christmas and birthdays and I haven’t been a part of it. People look at the glamour side of it and say ‘Lee’s done so many things’. Ten years down, I will be doing things that really matter to me. I don’t care whether people approve of it or not, because I’m not going out there to change anyone. I want to live it, my style, and if I happen to inspire someone in the younger generation, then so be it.

Through the years, you’ve been called many not-so-nice things

Everyone has their own opinions. Some people think I’m arrogant. Some people think I’m pompous. Some people say that I do whatever I want to.

Does it sting?

It doesn’t any more. When I was younger it did get to me.

And you lost it

I never lost my temper, because I didn’t have one.

You were..charged up, certainly

I had passion, which translated into aggression and from there it goes. When we’re younger, we’re all a little brash. Now I think that’s been polished up. If you don’t agree, that’s cool. When we’re younger, we all do stupid things. Who hasn’t? We live in a fish bowl environment, so people see what you do. Best thing now is that we can roll with the punches. Think about what you did and say ‘Damn, what did I do?’ and laugh about it! The ability to introspect and reinvent its what keeps you young. And that’s what I love doing. You know, a lot of people would have been crying for having lost out on playing one Chennai Open, but that’s not who I am.


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