If you are a parent with a child, there may not be much difference between the high point in your life and that of Leander Paes —if the man himself is to be believed. “I rate the birth of my daughter Aiyana above everything I have achieved. It’s the most beautiful thing that has happened in my life. I put it above my Olympic medal. Damn man, I put it above myself!” says the winner of an Olympic bronze, nine Grand Slams and over five million dollars in prize money.
But doting fathers dot the land, there is only one Paes. This particular dad does not have much belief in the notion that length of years on court and the experience thereof allows one to keep winning in the higher echelons of the sport. “A day before the final I have just spent close to an hour in the gym.” Doing what? “Oh, the usual, you know – 500 abs, couple of miles on the cycle, extensive stretching and basic strengthening exercises. Now, don’t expect me to reveal all my secrets,” he laughs before adding, “longevity is a product of mental strength and self-belief with the necessary sweat put in to ensure the muscles respond automatically when the going gets tough.”
But, come on, all this gyming must seem a bit of a bore after so many years of the same forehands and backhands? “In some sense or form it’s a drug. It’s not about hating to lose or craving to win but, for me, it has become a desire to keep pushing the envelope, to keep challenging the body and the mind to keep up with my passion. No matter what I do in life I want to do everything in my power to be triumphant against what the opposition throws at me. I know it sounds clichéd, but then, it is true!”
It’s all in you
The motivation to keep facing the grind of training and the incessant travel that the Tour demands is rare even if the reward is an odd crore for each good outing at a Grand Slam. “My work ethic is my own. I have never needed to be prodded even after so many years. I pride myself on sticking to standards that I demand from my own work. I have also been all along careful about surrounding myself with people who are not just yes sayers. A man is a product of his environment and I have ensured I have the best trainers and coaches all along.”
Dream it, do it
What does arguably the greatest Indian tennis player ever wish his legacy to be? What does Leander want his contribution to be? “If my deeds can motivate one Indian child out there to live his dream and to believe that if you have the desire then you can achieve whatever you set you heart on, I would feel most gratified. I was a kid with a heart condition and I am still a player with no backhand. I survive on my passion and my tenacity. If you want something bad enough, you can get it. That’s the message I want to send out to the next generation.”
More than tennis
Over the years Paes has been offered film roles, reality shows and dance shows on TV, offers to put his name on money churning tennis academy schemes and numerous business tie-ups. He’s turned them all down. “I firmly believe that the narrow constructs that we put ourselves into are clichéd prisons of our own mind. As a man evolves, there are enough opportunities out there. But each new calling demands its own abeyance, each asks for its own pound of flesh and its own buckets of sweat. There will be far more to Leander than just the tennis player. But I will take up new challenges only when I know I can give my 100%. After all I have a reputation to live up to,” he laughs.
As of now his fans can expect to see Paes go on till the 2012 London Olympics. “No way am I quitting soon dude, I am having fun out here. This my life and, frankly, I love it.”