In 1986, in an old Madras town, a 13-year-old Leander Paes started his journey toward becoming a professional tennis player. It was at the Britannia Tennis Academy (BAT) where he honed his basics and worked on his endurance, under the watchful eyes of coach T Chandrasekaran.
"Leander will never forget the Chennai beaches," says Chandrasekran, laughing. "To improve his endurance, I used to make him run on these beaches for miles. This made his legs stronger and faster, which is crucial for any tennis player."
Running 7 km to 8 km every day built the base for Paes and gradually his fitness, strokes and ability to hit the ball improved, recalls Chandrasekaran.
In Chandrasekaran's analysis, Paes's playing pattern changed after he left BAT. From strong groundstrokes, he has now developed into more of a serve and volley player and, in the long run, that has helped him save tremendous amounts of energy.
The tennis star is all set to appear in a record seventh Olympics next year.
Paes's father and sports medicine expert, Dr Vece Paes says that his son is blessed with fast-twitch muscle fibres. "When it comes to sustainability and stamina, Leander is not fit in the traditional way. But he has inborn speed. Speed is his forte," says Dr Vece. "At this age, however, it's not advisable for him to undergo intense physical training, so we focus on functional training combined with core exercises."
Paes follows no specific diet. However, he does not drink or smoke, avoids red meat and consumes nutritious food.
"For me, sport and fitness are a way of life. I am fanatical about my fitness and a healthy living. I don't smoke, do drugs or alcohol. I don't need it," says Paes, who won the Australian Open mixed doubles title with Martina Hingis last week.
To Paes, fitness is a state where your body and mind is in sync.
"I know myself unbelievably well. I know my strengths and weaknesses. I find happiness in living healthy," he says.
And his trainers Sanjay Singh and Dave Herman ensure that he stays fit. At 41, he does strenuous weight workouts once or twice a week. He also does regular short sprints and reflex exercises. His routine comprises tennis training on court, core exercises in the evening, and recovery through massage and swimming.
"There is rule of 10 in sport; working for 10 years, 10,000 hours taking necessary precautions. They say once you perfect that, you become a great athlete. Leander has acquired that," says Dr Vece.
Another important aspect to the tennis star's overall fitness is keeping him injury-free, and to attend to his smallest of niggles and ailments.
"When he gets injured, we ensure he has a complete layoff and is rehabilitated before making a comeback. These things add to the longevity of a player," adds Dr Vece.
While as a youngster Paes used to train in the traditional way, he doesn't do that anymore, lest he injures or strains a muscle.
"Back then, long runs and weight training were in vogue. That, however, has changed with time. Leander has an ability for high speed and our focus is on sustaining that speed fitness," says Dr Vece, adding "and since he plays doubles, he doesn't have to run as much as single players."
Phsyical fitness alone is not enough. To keep himself mentally calm, the once-aggressive tennis player also does breathing exercises, especially in between points. When he loses a point, his coach is there to ensure that no negative thoughts enter his mind and he continues to play positively.