I’m still a 12-year-old at heart,that’s what keeps me going: Leander Paes

Nandan Bal,described Leander Paes as a 12-year-old.

Written by Chinmay Brahme | Pune | Published:October 25, 2013 3:21 am

When the former coach of the Indian Davis Cup team,Nandan Bal,described Leander Paes as a 12-year-old,raucous laughter followed,with the packed hall seeming to pass off the quip as friendly banter between the coach and his former ward. However,when 40-year-old Paes took the podium,he reiterated that one of the biggest reasons behind his continued success and longevity in professional tennis was that he still considered himself a little boy.

“I have been playing for 28 years and I think if I keep behaving like a 12-year-old,I can comfortably keep on playing for a few more,” he said. On a more serious note,though,Paes said the characteristic of constantly asking questions,maintaining a curious outlook towards life and tennis helped him perform on the professional tennis circuit for so long.

In the city for an interaction at the Amanora Township,the veteran of six Olympic Games and the proud owner of 14 Grand Slam titles,said he is looking forward to playing the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. “I am 100 per cent in for the 2016 Olympics. I absolutely want to play and there are only four players in the world who have participated in seven editions of the Olympic Games. I really want to join that group,” said the bronze medalist at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Having played for 28 years and figured in 31 Grand Slam finals,Paes has no plans of hanging up his racquet. “My hunger to serve at 241 kmph is still there. I want to master the art of hitting a top-spin backhand return over my shoulder,which is really difficult to execute. I have torn my stomach muscle 16 times but I still want to go on. I want to go on mastering my craft and that’s maybe why I am still playing,” he said.

Quizzed on his penchant for partnering players from the Czech Republic,he said the hardworking culture and constant drive of the Czechs to improve their craft is what draws him towards their tennis players. “All Czech players that I have played with come from middle-class hardworking backgrounds,similar to mine. Also,they have an innate humbleness and always want to become better at what they do. Also,their dry sense of humour and the ability to laugh at themselves is something that I appreciate,” he said.

Having played with legends such as Martina Navratilova and Ivan Lendl,both of Czech origin,Paes said he has learned a lot from their culture and is very comfortable with players from the eastern European country.

Paes,who plays for the Washington Kastles,challenged the Accurate Aces — champions of the inaugural Maharashtra Tennis League — to an exhibition match. “I play for the Kastles and we currently have Martina Hingis and Anastasia Rodionova on our roster. On behalf of my owner,Mark Ein,I invite the Accurate Aces to come over to Washington to play a match. Hopefully,the Kastles will come to Pune and play the Aces on their home turf too,” he said.

After having clinched the 2013 US Open men’s doubles title,Paes has now set his sight on the ATP World Tour finals to be played in London in the beginning of November. “That (ATP World Tour Finals) has been something that has eluded me. We didn’t start the year so well,but with the US Open title,it’s getting better. Radek’s (Stepanek) is coming back from spinal surgery and we are hoping for a good show in London.”

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