When Leander Paes first turned pro, the world saw its last days in the Cold War era, Sachin Tendulkar was yet to stamp his authority over world of cricket, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi’s era was yet to be ushered in. 25 years later, when the Cold War seems to be part of medieval history, Sachin mesmerised the world with his bat and retired a few years ago, Pete Sampras and Andre Aggasi came and went as greats of the game. Federer and Nadal era ushered and then demolished by Djokovic, India is on the verge of becoming powerhouse of the world economy, Leander is still going great and demolishing records after records.
Leander’s career profile reads 1 single and 55 doubles title which includes 17 grand slam titles. His successful journey in tennis started with Wimbledon Junior title in 1990 followed by US open Junior title in 1991. He soon marked his name in Indian tennis history by reaching quarterfinals of doubles with Ramesh Krishnan in 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Four years down the line, in 1996, he brought laurels to India at Olympics by winning Bronze medal in singles. This was no mean achievement considering lack of individual medals from India at Olympics.
Leander’s pairing with Mahesh Bhupati became sensation in the world of tennis. In the year 1999, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi reached the finals of all four Grand Slam, winning the French Open and Wimbledon title, and finished the year as World No. 1 in doubles. In the same year International Tennis Federation named pair of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi as its men’s doubles world champion.
The pair fell apart soon after a successful stint but that didn’t stop Leander from continuing at the top of the world in doubles. Leander remained unstoppable. He went on to partner 100 different players in his career but his most successful partnership in men’s doubles remained with Mahesh Bhupati with whom he won three grand slam doubles title, he won two each with Radek Stepanek and Lukas Dlouhy and one with Martin Damm, incidentally all of them other than Mahesh Bhupati belonged Czech Republic.
In the mixed doubles, he flourished with different partners and became successful especially with his current mixed doubles partner Martina Hingis. Out of his 9 mixed doubles grand slam titles, he won three each with Martina Hingis and Cara Black, two with legendary Martina Navratilova and one with Lisa Raymond. He is just one short of most number of mixed doubles title, a record by Martina Navratilova (10).
Khel Ratna Leander Paes has fire in the belly when he represents India, he saves his best for India. Passion to keep Indian tri-colour flying high is evident whenever he represented India be it in Olympic, Davis Cup, Asian Games or Commonwealth. In 1996, at the Atlanta Olympic, he won men’s singles tennis bronze medal for India and ended India’s wait of 44 years for an individual Olympic medal which was last won in 1952 by wrestler KD Jadhav. Leander won 5 Gold and 2 Bronze medals in team events for India in Asian Games and 1 bronze medal in Commonwealth Games. He and Bhupathi dominated doubles matches in Davis Cup and went on to win 24 straight games from 1997-2010. Leander’s passionate and grinding performances in Davis Cup will forever remain etched in memory of Indian Tennis lovers.
With his latest mixed doubles title at US Open, Paes, at the age 42, has extended his record of the oldest Grand Slam winner in the open era by one more year. He is the only tennis player to compete in six Olympic Games (1992-2012) in a row and is raring to go for the seventh at Rio Olympics next year. In his career, Leander notched up over 700 doubles win, he is only the eight player in history to achieve this feat. His sheer longevity in the game is an inspiration for players. We never know, he might surprise us with a grand slam title at the age of 50. When career of tennis players ends around age of 30, his success at age of 42 and how he reinvented himself in span of three decades of his career is a lesson to be learnt for every sportsman. Jimmy Connors described career of Leander Paes aptly ” Old school tennis with a modern day tennis attitude”.
His services for India is unmatched and he will remain as one the founding pillars of Indian Tennis. Players like Leander comes in a century and he is surely the best that India has produced.