The ultimate warrior

The ultimate warrior

Appearing in his sixth Olympics, Paes relives a special journey

The ultimate warrior

He wears his heart on sleeves. The enormity of the occasion whets his desire to give his best; Leander Paes thrives on challenges.

The oldest players of the Indian contingent at 39, his enthusiasm to perform on the big stage is infectious. Paes is now knocking at the doors of history with his sixth straight Olympics, first tennis player ever to do so.

For someone who was conceived during the Munich Olympics, Paes has carried the family legacy of Olympians to an astonishing height.

"It's a real honour to play for India and the Olympics are always incredibly special. To be an Olympian for the sixth time is a great feeling," Paes told Deccan Herald.

"My dad and mum both played for India. Dad won a medal in hockey at the Olympics.

That's a strong sporting and patriotic legacy to grow up with and I guess I've imbibed that feeling. I was conceived in Munich during the Olympics, in fact (laughs),” Paes said.

"I feel I am in great form, and look forward to the Olympics in London. It’s been a good year with winning the Australian Open, making my career Slam, getting to the Wimbledon finals (in mixed doubles).”

The recent fallout with other team members may have left a bitter taste but Paes has learned to make his way out of such situations. He is playing with a greenhorn (Vishnu Vardhan) in doubles and Sania Mirza in the mixed doubles in London and promises to give his best.

No controversies

Paes said he has put the controversies behind. "I have never been one to predict the future, but I can assure you I will give it my very best for both events," said Paes, winner of 13 Grand Slam titles.

"My focus is certainly on the game ahead, and however unpleasant the circumstances have been going in, I am looking forward to the opening ceremony for the sixth time."

Paes became a national flavour when he won a singles bronze medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games, the first time in 44 years that an Indian won an individual Olympic medal.

Special memory

"Getting the single's medal at Atlanta is the most special memory I have of the Olympics. It was a historical moment in many ways, one I'll never forget," he said.

The man he lost to at Atlanta in the semifinals was American great Andre Agassi, one who was also famed to deliver his best playing for the country with a glittering 30-6 Davis Cup record. Agassi later goes on to describe Paes in his autobiography as having "the tour's quickest hands."

“He’s a flying jumping bean, a bundle of hyperkinetic energy, with the tour’s quickest hands," Agassi wrote in "Open".

Paes who touched career high rankings of 73 in the singles, had the potential to do better. T Chandrasekaran, one of the coaches who trained Paes during his hey days at the Britannia Amritraj Tennis Academy (BAT) in Chennai, believes that he could have done way better in singles.

 "He always was good at the nets but few know that Leander had very good ground strokes.

This was because he was groomed on slow clay courts of Chennai. He was a very attacking from the backcourt too. But when he left, his game took a different shape.

All the coaches believed that he had an all-round game and it could have gotten better," remarked Chandrasekaran, a former national coach.

He recalled Leander as a friendly and sincere youngster when he came all of 11 years in the academy.

"He was a very curious student and would pick the brains of coaches. He spoke from the heart. For his age, he was quite mature and sensible," he said. "I feel proud to have coached him. Playing in six Olympics is no joke.

All said and done he has created a record, which will be difficult to break. It may well be the biggest accomplishment of his career."

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