PUNE: At the recent Champions Tennis League, Leander Paes encountered a blast from his illustrious past. The doubles stalwart’s achievements are renowned, but it’s in singles that he first caught attention. Now, after an 11-year gap, at the ripe age of 41, he was reunited with his original muse.
Despite winning Wimbledon and US Open as a junior, as well as an Olympic bronze in Atlanta in 1996, this was an unreal experience for Leander. “I was playing a set each against Grand Slam champions Sergi Bruguera and Juan Carlos Ferrero! It was exhilarating because even though I lost by a whisker, I felt young again,” Leander gushed.
Leander announced his doubles partner for the coming year — Raven Klassen. The South African will be the 99th partner in the Indian’s 28-year long career, possibly another record. There seems to be no stopping the iron man of tennis. “Klassen and I will start the partnership from the Australian Open in Melbourne, but before that we will also play one of the warm-up events, we haven’t taken a call on that as yet.” Leander revealed his mixed doubles partner for 2015 would be Martina Hingis.
The ageless wonder seems to see no end in sight, hoping to take part in the Rio Olympics and complete one of his lifelong dreams – bagging a doubles medal.
He hopes to be ready physically and mentally. “I’ll be creating history by participating in my seventh Olympics. I don’t want to be there just as competitor. I want to be a medal prospect.”
In Pune to play a mixed doubles exhibition match against Georgia’s Oksana Kalashnikova during the Premier Tennis League final on Wednesday, Leander had great things to say about leagues in general.
That PTL brought together so many Davis Cup players was an achievement in itself. “There are Saketh Myneni, Jeevan Neduncheziyan, Ramkumar Ramanathan and Sanam Singh in action. They are present and future Davis Cup players and to give them such a platform is brilliant,” Leander said.
Asked about the sustainability of the tennis leagues given that India is playing host to three different ones — Vjay Amritraj’s CTL, Mahesh Bhupathi’s International Premier Tennis League (ITPL) and the Premier Tennis League — Leander displayed a positive yet insightful understanding of the workings of such extravaganzas. “The sustainability of the leagues will depend on how they are received by fans and franchise owners. The fans need to enjoy what they watch and owners need to get returns, tangible or otherwise,” Leander signed off.