Leander Paes touched the pinnacle of the rankings soon after he won junior Wimbledon in 1990. In 1996, he kindled fresh hope for a nation with a pathetic record at the Olympics when he broke through a 44-year-old logjam to win India an individual bronze at the Atlanta Olympics.
Consistently ranked amongst the top echelons of world tennis for close to two decades, Paes is the only player after Rod Laver to have won Wimbledon titles in three different decades.
Unlike cricketers who are cocooned within a team’s support system, Paes has plied his trade across the world all alone. Few know of the immense personal turmoil that he battled through to win the latest of his 14 grand slam titles with this year’s US Open triumph.
That also made him the oldest man to win at that level. Tennis is a global sport with the international body boasting of over 200 members.
Fuelling a boom
The mild-mannered Viswanathan Anand is a five-time world champion in chess. His success has fuelled a boom in proponents of the board game in the country that invented it.
Beating players from nations which have literally had chess factories, he has gamely hung on and carved a path that no Indian has ever tread before.
For a nation proud of its philosophical history, Anand has been like a reassuring balm. After all, he makes the chimera of a past cerebral age seem far more concrete with his brilliance. Chess is a sport played in households across the world.
No Indian had managed to break through to Olympic gold till Abhinav Bindra shot that 10.8 to finish off the competition at Beijing. He has not been dominant for as long as Leander or Anand.
But he has emerged as the most vocal voice in Indian sport and the sportsman that administrators have learnt to hate.
This winner has refused to join the gravy train of achievers in this country who parrot to the tune of the people in power; instead Bindra chooses to defy them — for that alone he is a pioneer. From pea-shooters to bigger bores, people shoot in every nation of the world.
Overcoming a barrier
Wrestling is not just what each kid figures when he tries to find his spot amongst peers; it’s also the most ancient of sports. But Sushil Kumar’s triumph is not just about that bronze in Beijing. Its gleam is all the more for he got a silver at London.
Two successive medals at the world’s greatest sporting stage with athletes from every nook and cranny of the globe unlocked another new stairway for Indian sport — it broke another mental barrier. Sushil’s achievement is unparalleled.
In the heat of battle, all these men plod alone. They don’t have the masking comfort of a whole team to camouflage their dip in form or the ease of facing largely well-mapped oppositions.
Unlike other sports, the Board of Control for Cricket in India does not consider its team to be the Indian team. It has categorically told the Supreme Court that players represent the BCCI and not India. Cricket is a sport that has only ten Test-playing nations.
Sachin Tendulkar’s excellence and the adulation he inspires in this nation made him eligible for the Bharat Ratna. But did he deserve it ahead of our genuine world-beaters? I don’t think so.