Paes in no mood to leave the stage yet

Tennis Davis Cup : 'I still want to win a couple of Grand Slams'

Paes in no mood to leave the stage yet

 It is a hot afternoon in Balewadi Sports Complex. Leander Paes, sporting a stubble and a lean look, is busy punishing the ball. The purpose with which he has gone about his practice session, since his arrival on Sunday  doesn’t betray that retirement is playing on his minds. He still carries the youthful vigour and enjoys his time chatting, and mentoring the rookies in the squad.

The age-defying displays that were on view at the Australian Open dominates the talk around the court. The sublime genius of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal beating the odds to make the final, the incredible stories of Williams sisters —  with Paes listening and chipping in with relish. At 43, a few grey strands peep from the dark stubble.

“How many people before the Australian Open would have spoken about this. Age is everything, too old to win Grand Slams, to play Davis Cups. Rubbish!” he lets out a laugh. For someone who has been challenging age by stacking up trophies, it isn’t a new topic. The awe of people at the turn of events in Melbourne, perhaps, is.  He himself has been fluctuating about his retirement, before the open suggestion of AITA secretary-general Hironmoy Chatterjee created a stir. Paes evades it swiftly. But doesn’t hold himself from announcing that he was still eyeing a couple of Grand Slams, and is in the best shape of his career.

“The rollercoaster of people’s opinions I don’t deal with. I have run my race in my lane, and I will continue to do that.”

As India prepares to play New Zealand over the weekend for the Asia-Oceania Group I tie, Paes will be hoping to surpass the record of most doubles wins in Davis Cup (42) which he currently shares with Italian legend Nicola Pietrangeli.

Asked about the relevance of the tie from his point of view, and Paes was categorical in stating: “It’s intriguing for me. I am still playing great tennis, I am healthy, and I will continue to play as long as I am happy. It doesn’t matter whether I get another chance to play, others’ opinions are their own. When I will be called for the national duty I will be ready.

“I still want to win a couple of Grands Slams. Today I am the fittest in the last 14 years,” said Paes, as he watches Ramkumar Ramanathan hit with youngsters Adil Kalyanpur and Nitin Kumar Sinha.

Bhupathi’s presence

Bring up the topic of Mahesh Bhupathi being the next captain, and Paes questions the hype around it. “Everyone is making too much of it. It would be awesome to play under him. Look at the experience we would bring. I am very excited,” he said.

Against New Zealand, India hold a 3-2 record, with India winning the last time (2015) the two nations met in Asia-Oceania final in Christchurch. It was one of the rare times that India had lost a doubles match in Davis Cup.  With Saketh Myneni as partner, Paes remained confident of his chances.

“New Zealand are very good, especially their doubles teams. But Saketh and I played great against Spain’s Olympic gold medallists. Yes, with his fitness the coaches’ hands are a bit full, so whether he plays singles I can’t say. It’s great to have him around,” he said.

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