All eyes will be on 43-year-old Leander Paes when he steps on to the court tomorrow at Delhi Lawn Tennis Association (DLTA) for the Davis Cup doubles encounter against the Spanish pair of Feliciano Lopez and Marc Lopez.
Leander , India's most decorated tennis star of all time is just one win away from overtaking Italian legend Nicola Pietrangeli's 44-year-old record for the most number of doubles victories at the Davis Cup.
What makes Leander's achievement more substantial is the fact that he has 42 wins from 53 ties with a winning percentage of 78 compared to Pietrangeli's 63% with 42 wins from 66 ties.
In July, Leander equaled Nicola's record of 42 Davis Cup doubles victories when he partnered Rohan Bopanna to conquer Hong Chung and Seong Chan Hong from South Korea with a comprehensive 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 straight sets win.
But when Leander takes on the Spaniards, it will be an uphill task for the 18-time Grand Slam champion as he will be partnering upcoming star Saketh Myneni as a result of Bopanna pulling out of the tie a few days ago.
Leander’s epic five-set doubles encounter on his Davis Cup debut at 16
A young Leander made his Davis Cup debut in 1990 when he was just 16-years-old. Leander who was part of the reserve team was given a nod by the then non-playing captain Naresh Kumar to play the doubles rubber against Japanese pair of Shuzo Matsuoka and Shigeru Ota.
The gutsy Leander shared the court alongside Zeeshan Ali and went on to win one of the greatest Davis Cup matches of all time. The epic five-set encounter lasted more than five hours. Though Leander was only 16 when he played his first tie, he displayed tremendous determination and stamina to last till the end and play a crucial role in guiding India in the well fought 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 18-16 win over the Japanese. With this win, Leander volleyed his way into the hearts of the fans.
A star was born and the nation got its tennis hero who went on to represent the country in more than 50 Davis cup ties lasting over two-and-a-half decades.
Leander, the record-wrecking machine
Leander is currently into his twenty-sixth year at Davis Cup, holds the record of playing Davis Cup for the most number of years.
The Indian Express pair of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi also holds a long standing record of 24 consecutive doubles win at Davis Cup which started with their victory over Czech pair Martin Damm and Petr Korda in 1997.
The India pair dominated the doubles arena for the next 14 years at Davis Cup, defeating ever pair that they were put up against. Their last win came against Brazilian pair of Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares in 2010 which was their final Davis Cup match together.
Leander monster killing victories over top ranked singles players at Davis Cup
Everyone knows Leander as an accomplished doubles player but he has always stepped up during the singles competition at Davis Cup as well. He has slayed some of the top-ranked players including Wayne Ferreira, Jan Siemerink, Jiri Novak and former Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic.
Eight-time Grand Slam champion Andre Agassi, in his autobiography, said, "In the semis (1996 Olympics) I meet Leander Paes, from India. He’s a flying jumping bean, a bundle of hyperkinetic energy, with the tour’s quickest hands. Still, he’s never learned to hit a tennis ball. He hits off-speed, hacks, chips, lobs — he’s the Brad of Bombay. Then, behind all his junk, he flies to the net, covers so well that it seems to work. After an hour, you feel as if he hasn’t hit one ball cleanly — and yet he’s beating you soundly."
Tough Spanish opponents
Leander Paes and Saketh Myneni have to put in all their efforts to overcome the 2016 French Open doubles champions Feliciano Lopez and Marc Lopez at the Davis Cup World Group Play-off encounter.
Leander stepped on to the professional court 26 years ago and went on to achieve nearly everything there is to in the world of tennis, but the hunger for success still remains the same for the boy who went on to become a legend.
Leander Paes might overtake Nicola Pietrangeli's record on Saturday, and even if he does not, the win will ultimately come in successive Davis Cup ties in 2017, but what remains unchanged is his undying passion for the sport. That seems everlasting.