Why is Leander Paes not playing at the Tokyo Olympics?
A man of records, 18-time Grand Slam champion Leander Paes' dream of representing India at the Tokyo Olympics - a record eighth appearance at the quadrennial Games will have to remain unfulfilled.
At a time when the word 'longevity', especially in the gambit of relationships, is easy to mostly evoke phobia, Indian tennis ace Leander Paes is a symbolic example of what consistency, class and longevity can mean. Sharing a sacred kinship with the tennis courts and treating the Olympics as a personal Mecca, Leander Paes' recurrent, unfailing pilgrimage is awe-worthy.
An 18-time Grand Slam champion in doubles and mixed doubles combined and a 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games bronze medallist in men's singles, Leander Paes is the most successful Indian male tennis player - having every possible feather that is to be present, neatly gathered in his cap.
Leander Paes, who is just two years shy of turning a grand 50, had plans of hanging up his racquet in 2020 after playing in a record eighth Olympics - the highest participation by any Indian player. Announcing his 'One Last Roar' campaign in end-2019, Paes wanted to bring his illustrious career to rest but the world obviously, had other plans for him.
"One day, the music will slow down and it will go silent. Just like music, there are many songs in an album and those albums are something I look forward to. I have played with the tri-colour in my heart, it is special, the reason I am doing this ATP tour is to give all the fans a special thank you," Leander Paes had said in an interview with ANI.
Disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, all such preset plans and the Tokyo Olympics even needed revision. Just like the Tokyo Olympics got postponed, Leander Paes, essentially a doubles specialist, as well shifted his plans of retirement to post-Olympics in hope of representing the tri-colour once again.
No more last roar for Leander Paes at the Tokyo Olympics
Considered as a pioneer of Indian tennis, Paes has the history books of tennis scribbled with his name against one too many records made by him. Tennis came into the limelight because of this Calcutta-born ace player who was hailed as the 'Brad of Bombay' by Andre Agassi in his autobiography Open.
When it came to tennis at the Olympics, India could trust with closed eyes on Leander Paes to carry the flag to success. However, the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a plethora of upsetting news galore as players were unable to participate in enough tournaments and work on improving their rankings.
For the Padma Bhushan awardee, this spelt bad news as his chances at participation considerably dimmed at the Tokyo Olympics. Ranked at a lowly 191 now, Leander Paes' hopes of playing at a record eighth Olympics was crushed. A former World No. 1, Paes has no option but to sit out the Tokyo Games and actually, hang up his racquet.
In fact, the Tokyo Olympics will only be seeing representation from one Indian pair - Sania Mirza and Ankita Raina who will compete in the women's doubles category. None of the men - Leander Paes, Rohan Bopanna or Divij Sharan managed to make the Tokyo cut and it will be the first time since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics when Paes paired up with Ramesh Krishnan that India will not have players in the men's doubles. Without any of the men managing to qualify, Sania Mirza will have to shoulder maximum pressure as she joins debutant Olympian Ankita Raina at the quadrennial Games.
Sadly, Leander Paes was looking forward to playing one last Olympics and thought that things will work out. We can't really blame him as well because when Paes won the bronze at the 1996 Olympics, he was also an unassuming wild card entry, who took the world by surprise.
However, with neither Rohan Bopanna-Divij Sharan failing to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics nor Leander Paes anywhere near to the qualifying mark, India will have to bank on Sania Mirza and Ankita Raina only at the Tokyo Olympics.
Leander Paes' dream of voicing a last roar at the Olympics will have to remain unfulfilled as the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced it to a mere whimper, making the tennis legend miss out on the Games. However, Paes will go down the pages of Indian tennis history as one of the biggest contributors of the sport and his shoes will be difficult to fill by anyone else, anytime soon.