Leander Paes, fresh from his US Open triumph in the men’s doubles with Radek Stepanek, said on Thursday that the ugly episode that rocked Indian tennis in the lead-up to last year’s London Olympics is something that still lingers in his memory, as reported by IBN Live. As a result of that, Paes is all the more keen to play at Rio 2016.
“The last Olympics left a real sour taste in my mouth. That is something that is still there. That has been one of my biggest motivating factors to go to Rio. At the end of the day, I can do what is within my control to make sure that I am ready,” he told reporters yesterday.
There was a huge selection row ahead of last year’s Olympics which led to internal squabbles amongst the players. It all started when Mahesh Bhupathi revealed that he would not partner Leander Paes for the tennis event at the Olympics as he wanted to stay faithful to his partner on tour, Rohan Bopanna, with whom he wanted to play in London as well. The All India Tennis Federation (AITA) then offered Rohan Bopanna the chance to partner Paes and he too subsequently refused.
To avoid any further chaos, the AITA paired Bhupathi with Bopanna and in an attempt to assuage Paes, asked Sania Mirza to partner him for the mixed doubles. Vishnu Vardhan was chosen to be Paes’ partner in the men’s doubles.
Paes who became the oldest male player to win a Grand Slam title when he won the US Open, is hoping for the current standoff between the IOA and IOC to be resolved quickly, so that the athletes could have the opportunity to represent their nation at the next Olympiad.
“Indian sports is at a crossroads at the moment. Right now, we will still be representing under the IOC flag. Firstly, I hope that is lifted. I hope that we perform under our own flag and perform for our own people. The Olympics is still three years away but for me it is to make sure that I am ready, make sure that I am in the best playing condition health-wise, physically, with my game, with my form, when we get closer to the Olympics,” he said.
He is also looking forward to playing and winning the season ending Barclays World Championship trophy, which happens to be the only major trophy he has not won.
“I have got a couple of tournaments leading into the World Championship. I will leave on Sunday for the Thai Open, the Chinese Open. But those are all the preparatory events for the O2 where I play the Barclays World Championship. It is going to take two months to prepare for a title that I still haven’t won,” Paes said.
“I think I have been in four or five finals with four or five partners but that is one trophy missing from my showcase,” he added.
The 14-time Grand Slam champion also had special words of praise for his current partner, Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic, “One of the reasons I think Radek is the best doubles partner is his intelligence to pick up things, the way he actually creates shots, the way he grasps what we are trying to do in each match. He is so fast that it makes fun to play with.”
“There are certain drills that I do to keep my hand-eye co-ordination going, keep my reflexes going. For me I like to control the game on the court, so I will hit shots into certain position where I know the ball will come back or at least I narrow the options down. With Radek at the nets, that is exactly what I am trying to work on. He is such a talented player. He is very intelligent. When I share something with him, he picks it up real quick. It is not easy for a singles player where you have to adapt to the doubles court,” he said.
Paes also revealed that he had spent time with multiple Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl, who now coaches Britain’s Andy Murray, in order to improve his baseline play.
“I have shared a great relation with Ivan Lendl over the years. When I came out of the juniors in 1990, I was number one in the world, I travelled with Ivan for two and half years and trained with him and Tony Roche in Australia. I love to keep learning. My game at the nets is instinctive, it’s fast, but my game on the baseline is what I need to keep improving on,” Paes said.
“I watched specific players. I watched [Novak] Djokovic and the balance that he has on the court. I watched Andy Murray and the balance he has on court. Both those two players have a two-handed backhand that I can’t really relate but someone like Lendl had a single-handed backhand. Hence you can talk to him,” he mentioned.
“I spoke to him before the US Open, when we were in Cincinnati and we continuously have this ongoing dialogue. It is an ongoing process,” he added.
Paes, now a veteran on tour for over 27 years and having won almost everything there is to be won, still feels the need though to improve his backhand. “I still have to perfect getting a top-spin backhand. I still have to get a serve over 200 clicks an hour. I don’t think that is going to happen. But I think it is about getting better,” he said.
Paes was also asked about the likes of Vishwanathan Anand and Sachin Tendulkar, who like him, have continued playing into their 40s.
“I have tremendous respect for Vishy Anand and Sachin. We are all born around the same time and same year. We all sort of had a similar journey. I have amazing respect for what both have done.”
“What Sachin has done in the world of cricket is phenomenal. The role model that he is, is phenomenal. What Vishy Anand continues to do in his sport, profession, is fantastic.”