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On to his 8th Olympics, a gold will be Leander's befitting farewell

On to his 8th Olympics, a gold will be Leanders befitting farewell

Md Imtiaz

Published: 26 Dec 2019 8:17 AM GMT

If one attempts to trace the career of Leander Paes, he will be up for astonishment looking at his glorious trophy cabinet. The 46-year-old has amassed hundreds of laurels that include 18 velvet Grand Slam doubles titles. The last of his 18 slams came in the 2016 French Open with Martina Hingis. Paes, the most efficient doubles player in Davis Cup history, fell out of the top 100 rankings for the first time in 19 years last month. And while we were poised to end the Christmas Day on a merry note, the decorated tennis player took to Twitter to announce that 2020 is going to be the year he hangs his racquet.

In his Christmas message to fans, Paes announced his farewell from the sport. “I want to announce 2020 as my farewell year as a pro tennis player,” he wrote.

Leander Paes
The 46-year-old has amassed hundreds of laurels that include 18 velvet Grand Slam doubles titles.

Throughout his career spanning for almost three decades, Leander has kept on proving his ageless aura time and again. Winning 10 titles and eight runners-up trophies make him the most successful male tennis player in the mixed doubles format. This comes after 29 years of slogging it out on the court for a sport that has a modest following in the country more because of the popularity of a Federer and a Nadal.

Despite being one of the greatest athletes of India, Leander doesn't get the attention in the era of Virat, Chhetri or Sindhu's stardom. But he cannot care less about it. Wielding his powerful racket, Paes has been slowly able to put India on the global map of tennis.

It hasn't been an easy journey for a player to excel at a sport which holds a secondary position in his country. But then again, it barely matters to Paes. He just ensures a long list of firsts attached to his name.

Leander Paes Bronze Olympics
Paes won a bronze medal for India in singles in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games

Paes, who is the first and only tennis player to compete at seven Olympic games, had turned professional in 1991. He shot to national recognition by reaching the quarter-finals of the 1992 Olympics, partnering Ramesh Krishnan in the men’s doubles event.

Paes won a bronze medal for India in singles in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and in men’s doubles, he has won French Open and US Open thrice in 1999, 2001 and 2009 and 2006, 2009 and 2013, respectively. He won the Australian Open doubles title in 2012 and the Wimbledon once in 1999.

Since the late 90s, Paes formed a formidable doubles duo with Mahesh Bhupathi, as the Indian pair of ‘Lee-Hesh’ went on to become the top-ranked pair in the world.

The Indian's romance with the Wimbledon trophies started in 1999, when Leander and Mahesh followed up on their maiden Grand Slam triumph in the French Open, by beating Paul Haarhuis of the Netherlands and Jared Palmer of the US, 6-7(10), 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(4) in the final.

But Leander shone even without Bhupathi winning Slams, alongside others like Radek Stepanek and mixed doubles with Martina Navratilova.

Achieving all this in a sport where he has to struggle to garner visibility owing to playing in a category that is not bestowed with the same kind of importance commanded by the singles title, is no mean feat.

Paes is also the most successful doubles player in the history of Davis Cup with 44 wins, recently dropped out of top-100 for the first time in 19 years. His role has been that of a bellwether for Indian tennis. On one hand, he has led the pack to Davis Cup, while on the other hand, he has battled out in grand slams that showcased his utter brilliance.

Leander Paes is one of the greats that the game of tennis has ever seen. He has been such a consistent feature on the ATP Tour for almost three decades now. In his long professional career, he has played alongside many greats of the game and in his own words, has seen about 12 generations of tennis players.

Leander Paes Martina Hingis
Leander Paes with his mixed-doubles partner Martina Hingis

Leander, who made his Olympic debut in 1992, will look for one final flourish at Tokyo Olympics next year. It is hard to believe that Paes has been playing tennis since 1991. When he started his career, the Indian competed alongside the likes of John McEnroe, and he is still going strong decades later.

Also read: If I play in Tokyo, it is India’s record – Leander Paes

In a press conference in October, Paes had said, “I have had a very blessed career, so if I have another year in it, get to play another Olympics, wonderful. If I don’t, still wonderful/ As far as I am concerned, I was conceived at the Olympics in 1972, when my parents were there. I was born for the Olympics. Every Sunday morning after the church, I used to polish my dad’s medal and everything I have dreamt for is to play for our flag and to play for our people so if I am ever called to play for our country, rest assured I will be there,” he said. It will be a national record for the number of appearances at the Olympics.

If he makes it to Tokyo 2020, it will be a testament to his longevity on the tennis court and even at the age of 46, Paes is still dreaming of new records to set. The only trophy missing in his cabinet is the elusive Olympics gold. And if he somehow manages to succeed, it would be a tremendous way to draw the curtains on one of the greatest tennis careers of all time.

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