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Those sudden bursts of boisterous celebrations after winning a point, the anguish with unforced errors, the swift on-court movements and those volleying skills, yes, nothing has changed much for the timeless Leander Paes even today. At the first Grand Slam of the season In Melbourne, the 44-year old veteran proved that the hunger and passion for the sport is his fuel. Tennis fans who have closely followed the action at the Australian Open in the last few days will second my opinion about how Leander swept his fans off their feet with his skilfull play and pure childlike expressions. Swinging the racquet with a boyish charm and basking in the deafening applauds springing from the stands, Paes looked like a magician on a time machine taking us along through the corridors of the past. Registering his 746th win in Doubles by sweeping aside the fifth-seeded duo of Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares in the Round 2 of the Australian Open, Leander Paes now sits comfortably at No 6 in the list of the most Doubles match wins list. Languishing close to No.5 Max Mirnyi with 757 wins, Todd Woodbridge 768, Bob Bryan 1046, Daniel Nestor 1057 and the top Mike Bryan with 1060 doubles wins, the Legend of Paes and his records keep surging. Source: Alchetron Making his debut way back in 1990 as a 16-year-old at the Davis Cup till today, Paes, the Winner of Eight Grand Slam Doubles titles and ten Mixed doubles still has the fire to set the court alive by his sheer footwork. A vintage Leander in Melbourne was such a treat to watch. It is not always about victories but the fact that we could see glimpses of his passion for tennis, in itself was a soul treat for those very many fans who idolise him from times immemorial. For Paes who holds the record for the most Davis Cup doubles wins with 42 victories (equal to Nicola Pietrangeli), being dropped from the prestigious squad for the tie against Uzbekistan last year might have been very unfortunate but that has barely been a roadblock in his taking the adversities head on and charging ahead. Playing the sport for the sheer love of it, Paes seems determined in rolling back the years and making time stand still. The World no 61 has always been very passionate about playing for the country. "On a global stage, you always want to see your flag fly high. You speak about your country. I've been very blessed, I've had a long career and now I play with a lot of passion,' Paes was quoted saying in an interview. But like every high hit a low, Leander has had a very dampening 2017, a year when it was for the first time in two decades that he had to battle a void of not having won any World Tour title or a Major. Also not having made it to a Grand Slam semi-final since 2000, it in no way was bogging down the Great Leander in any which way. Taking to play Challenger events, the 44-year-old capped the last season with the Knoxville Challenger and Champaign Challenger US with his newest compatriot Purav Raja. Paes openly admits that there have been times when he has run out of things to reinvent but keeps going because of the joy the sport gives him. Paes has monumental hopes from his new partnership with Purav. He has been extremely confident in him and it was very much visible while he was on-court in Melbourne and applauding Raja's skilful net play. Their placement and team-effort saw them through Two rounds eventually falling to the 11th seeded duo of Farah and Cabal in the pre-quarters.
What can we expect from his new partnership with Purav Raja?Having a staggering 18 Majors to his resume and an Olympic medal in his cabinet of laurels, Paes has now almost won it all. Having played with the 32-year-old Purav at the Davis Cup tie against South Korea in Delhi, Leander has been emphatic about his collaboration with him. All his earlier partners, namely Radek Stepanek, Martin Damn and Mahesh Bhupathi have taken their share of time to evolve and so will this is what Paes has been always confident about. "I think it's a matter of time. With every partnership I have had ' whether it was with Radek Stepanek or Martin Damn or Mahesh (Bhupathi) ' it took some time. With Radek, we had to play and win some 250s until we actually won a Grand Slam. With Martin, we had to play some 250s and Challengers till we won a Masters Series at Indian Wells before we won a Slam. With Mahesh, we played four-and-a-half months of Challengers so that also took time. There is a learning curve with every team." Leander said in an interview with The Indian Express recently. By Leander's own admission, his combination with Raja is a bit unique. They are not the typical doubles pair that can be spotted. These days Doubles is more a combine of one thunderous server and another about a crushing returner. In contrast, the Raja-Leander duo thrives more on court-craft instead of the power. The veteran, Paes has always believed in team efforts. Making the most of each other's flaws helps in building a team is what he advocates and also puts into practice. He has been finding newer ways of building the physical, mental and technical aspects of the game and also helping Purav to do so.
The fitness regime that Leander adheres toFor the Great Leander, the major fitness goal now has been about keeping injuries at bay. In an impeccable 28 years of his illustrious career, practising his strokes for over seven million times and a little more has given him an unforgettable muscle memory. Adding to it a stringent diet has its share in keeping his enviable fitness intact. It has been a blessed career in which Paes has not suffered a major injury that stopped him from playing although a few minor injuries such as a rolled ankle have troubled him in the past but thankfully not much. His father has been the one mentor who plans the fitness of his son Leander and changes program every three months for him to adapt. Paes also has also taken on the vegetarian way of life. Setting an example for the newer generation, Paes advocates the various practices of yoga, meditation and Vipassana to develop mental strength which is of utmost importance in this individual sport of tennis. Failing on honing the mental aspect of the game, Paes believes that it could often subdue an athlete into the throes of loneliness and make it difficult to find the light at the end of the tunnel.
What does the new season look like for Leander?Leander Paes began the new season of 2018 by crashing out in the first round at the Inaugural Tata Open Maharashtra but kept the faith and ventured in Melbourne. Leaving behind the not- so- great start, Paes and Raja did take a step further and reach the Third round in Melbourne with two very thrilling victories over the respective rivals. Paes will play the Newport Beach Challenger with J Cerretani against Gonzalez and Behar in the round of 16 tomorrow. Facing a deluge of questions every now and then about his form in the recent year or two, Paes has been very open in voicing his opinions. "I don't have to prove anything to anyone, my career speaks for itself. At this stage, I play because I love my tennis. I'm very passionate about being an athlete and the lifestyle it incorporates." "I've done my best when I've played for my flag. It gives me great joy and pride to play for my country, city and people. Even when I played individually, like in the Wimbledon I've played for my flag. Paes was quoted saying. While most of his contemporaries are into coaching or already hung their racquets, Paes's famish for excellence is relentless. Paes, who began as a singles player and garnered tremendous success becoming the first Indian to win an individual Olympic medal in tennis - at the 1996 games in Atlanta, where he won the bronze medal is now well on his way upward to scale newer heights in the sport. Leander Paes is indeed a bonafide legend of doubles tennis with title triumphs at all four majors and honoured with the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan for his tremendous achievements in the field of sports. The Man himself is like the ageing wine that only gets better with time. At 44 years, he continues to inspire and moulds himself into a role model for the entire fraternity of sports and upcoming athletes. When asked about the coaching of young players, Paes has always had positive answers saying that he is open to lend help anytime. India's second-ranked Ramkumar Ramanathan also basks under the watchful guidance of Leander. It will soon be a time when we will see our Legend, Leander holding aloft a nineteenth Grand Slam trophy and turning back the hands of the clock with supreme dedication and focus that he is always known for.