Leander @ 42: Floundering But Far From Done
Leander Paes, who turns 42 today, aims to play in the Summer Olympics of 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
After a sparkling comeback win over Serbia in the doubles clash at last year’s Davis Cup tie in Bangalore, Leander Paes turned to me in the media conference and chuckled, “Yes Gaurav, would you like to ask the question about my age now?”
For the last few years in our interactions, there has been a running theme to our conversations- I’ve either said, “well played, old man” or “hard luck, old man” to him. He laughs heartily and insists the finish line isn’t even starting to appear on the horizon.
Old Man Playing a Younger Man’s Sport
Today he turns 42. And suddenly, after two and a half decades of being an elite sportsman, his recent results have the ring of an old man in a younger man’s sport. He’s lost 14 of his 30 men’s doubles matches this year and his ranking is floundering at a un-Paes like 24th.
It hasn’t all been wretched though. In January, Paes produced a compelling run with former World Number one Martina Hingis to clinch the Australian Open mixed doubles crown, his 15th career Grand Slam title. Only recently, he became only the eighth man to complete 700 career doubles wins.
It’s a special number. I look at these milestones as motivation to keep pushing further. I’ll try and get to 800 now.
With most athletes at the home stretch of their careers, you would dismiss such claims as bluster. Not Paes. He has made a career out of bouncing back repeatedly from adversity.
Having won a bagful of majors, been number one and with a clutch of medals at multi-discipline games, for the last couple of years he has zeroed in on a clear target- to play in an unprecedented seventh Olympics at Rio next year.
I’d be maybe one of 5-6 athletes in the history of the Olympic movement to play seven; it would be a Guinness world record. I wake up every day with a goal and a purpose. I’m very blessed to have that opportunity.
Leander Paes’ Off the Court Life
Life beyond the courts hasn’t been easy of late. An ugly spectacle has played out in public glare with a legal battle with former partner Rhea Pillai for the custody of their daughter. Paes chooses not to say much but a confidant describes this as the “toughest time of his life.”
So the odds are stacked against him and heavily so. Patchy form. Feisty rivals. An ageing body. Personal turmoil.
Yet, this is Leander Adrian Paes. He fronts up and he can take a scrap.
It won’t be a very happy birthday perhaps, but don’t think for a second that he is done.
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