The oldest player to clinch a Grand Slam tournament win in Open era, Indian tennis ace Leander Paes credited his former mixed doubles partner Martina Navratilova for helping him elongate his international career by adopting a “clean lifestyle”.
“Playing with Martina for many many years, I have learnt a lot. She is obviously a big inspiration for me to continue to remodel my game and stay healthy. I have also learnt how to live a clean lifestyle and be productive towards my tennis,” Paes told reporters on his return after winning the men’s doubles trophy at the US Open last week.
Paes and Navratilova together won two Grand Slam mixed doubles titles, besides finishing runners-up on two other occasions.
He became the oldest man to win a Grand Slam title on Sunday when he along with his Czech partner Radek Stepanek won the men’s doubles title at the US Open.
Enduring a tough season this year, Paes was determined to excel at the last Grand Slam of the year.
“I had no idea that I was the first person in the Open era to win a Grand Slam at 40. What I did know was that this whole year had been such a rough one — both on and off the court. It has been a very hard year. Coming into the American summer, I knew I had to do really well.
“My first week in the Canadian Open in Montreal did not go well and the week in Cincinnati was average (got through to the quarterfinals).
“So I added an extra tournament (Winston-Salem Open) and played with Daniel Nestor and we won that one. That seems to have kickstarted the rhythm,” he said.
The US Open has always been a happy hunting ground for the Indian tennis star and he was relieved to have won there after three years.
“In the US Open, I have done really well over the years. I won the junior singles title way back in 1991.
“For the last seven years, my performance in mixed doubles and men’s doubles is fairly solid at the US Open. I was happy to get the hard court and humid conditions which we Indians are used to,” said Paes, who has eight men’s doubles trophies at the Majors and six mixed doubles crowns.
While dedicating his win to the people who have nurtured his career, Paes said: “Everytime I step on to the court is to honour my team, my father who has been nurturing me as a human being as well as an athlete for so many years.
“For my coaches Ric Leach, Sanjay Singh and Dave O’Meara and the whole team who has looked after me for so many years. They are the ones who I play for and look to honour.”