CHENNAI: On New Year’s Day, Somdev Devvarman ended months of speculation about his future with one single tweet. “Starting 2017 on a new note, retiring from pro tennis. Thanks to everyone for the love and support over the years. #newyearnewbeginnings.” It didn’t come as much of a surprise as the 31-year-old has been ‘guiding’ Prajnesh Gunneswaran and a few other local players at the Chennai Open. Two plus two, right?
However, there was a much bigger surprise in store for the Indian media gathered here when 18-time Grand Slam winner Leander Paes suddenly deviated from what would’ve been a routine press conference by dropping a cryptic hint about his own plans. The initial mood was all jovial with a few laughs thrown in, but when asked about motivation, Paes’ demeanour became more pensive than expected. Instead of the usual ‘I play for records’ or ‘I’ve nothing left to prove’, the veteran’s usual gift of the gab vanished as he struggled to string sentences together, his face twitching and eyes glistening.
Was he experiencing a sudden epiphany? “At 43, I’m blessed to be able to compete at this level... It’s a dream and I’ve to thank my whole team... I’ve a few new people on the team, who’re going to help me in the last... few... months... of my playing career and after that,” came the response.
It was followed by a suggestion that even he might take up coaching at some point in the near future. “It is the time right now to transcend and do something bigger than just winning. I would love to create someone who is winning it for the first time and help him realise what it takes to win the first one. That’s the dream I have now, more than playing in an eighth Olympics or winning a 20th Grand Slam. These are just numbers now,” Paes continued.
For the longest time, Paes has been vocal about breaking Nicola Pietrangeli’s Davis Cup record of most doubles wins. Both have an identical win-loss record of 42-12, but the Italian has played 66 ties to the Indian’s 54. With the Asia/Oceania Zone Group I first round encounter just a month away, could we see him ride into the sunset if he gets the win? In theory, anything’s possible... but with Mahesh Bhupathi taking over the captaincy from Anand Amritraj after the New Zealand tie, Paes’ need to share this sensitive information lends some credence to the aforementioned idea.
But, there is a caveat. Since tennis players are known to be highly emotional, this could have just as well been Paes thinking out aloud. He won a mixed Major last season, so there’s no reason to believe he can’t bag some more. A flame that flickers doesn’t always go out.