It’s close to 26 years since Leander Paes made his debut in Davis Cup in Chandigarh in 1990 partnering with Zeeshan Ali in the doubles match against the Japanese pair of S Ota and S Matsuoka. The then 17-year-old Paes was drafted into the Indian team to partner with Ali and the pair would won the doubles match, which still holds the record for the longest final set for the Indian Davis Cup team. And when Leander Paes plays at the Chandigarh Club’s grass courts on Saturday against South Korea in Davis Cup, 46-year-old Ali would also see the proceedings as the Indian team’s coach.
“That was almost a quarter of century ago. Yes, it was his first match and he was 17 at that time. We were all very young at that time and playing against a team like Japan that had players who had just reached the quarter-finals in Wimbledon. So obviously it was a big thing for us. It was a big moment for Leander. It will be a big moment for Saketh and Ramkumar as they will also play their first match in Davis Cup here. That’s the beauty of Davis Cup. It’s completely different from the individual events and I still remember when Leander and I played a five-hour-long match, and we won by 18-16 in the fifth set. Definitely a great start in Davis Cup for Leander,” Ali Chandigarh News-line.
Initially drafted into the team as a reserve player, Leander was nominated as the fourth player after non-playing captain Naresh Kumar opted for the youngster against Japanese doubles pair. Leander’s debut in Davis Cup came a year after he became the junior Wimbledon champion. Leander and Ali went on to win the match against Ota/Matsuoka 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 18-16. Father Vece Paes, who was a member of the 1972 Olympics bronze medal winning Indian hockey team, remembers seeing the match on television.
“It was captain Naresh Kumar who saw Leander playing on the practice courts as a reserve player and said he wanted Leander as the fourth player for the tie against Japan. He was travelling alone with the team for that match and he would update us over the phone. It was a great moment for Leander and the way they won the last game 18-16 was something which made the senior players notice him. He played along with Ramesh Krishan for three years in Davis Cup and he admired him a lot,” said the senior Paes.
Since his debut, Leander has played in 52 Davis Cup ties and also played against Australia in Chandigarh in 1991. The 43-year-old Paes has a doubles record of 41 wins and 11 losses in Davis Cup and will be pairing up with Rohan Bopanna against South Korea and also for Rio Olympics.
“Chandigarh is a place that Leander enjoys and loves to go. After the Australia game in 1991, we would go to Rock Garden, Sukhna Lake and also to Pinjore Garden. The federation also organised a Pakistani singer programme at Pinjore Garden for the Indian team and all the players enjoyed the music. Later, he visited Chandigarh several times and we hope that it will be once again a happy outing for Leander this time too,” said the senior Paes.