On the sidelines of the Chennai Open, Leander Paes was wondering just how to convey to his fans that right now his heart was just not into playing Davis Cup. India take on the Chinese Taipei at Indore end of this week minus the services of their most decorated warrior.
For the man, whose career has been all about heart, it has been difficult to put in black and white just what it is that has been bothering him apart from his commitment to his daughter. HT coaxed some answers.
Excerpts from an interview:
Leander, what do you see as your tennis legacy? After all, you have always been the man who played for the flag. Now you are not playing Davis Cup.
I think the scenario that we are in — where I am getting caught between supposedly being the association’s boy and also the players coming together in their group, so to say, to overthrow the association — the only legacy that I can leave is by my own actions; by playing the game. Try to do the best I can as an athlete, create history in my own little way and let those actions speak for themselves.
Somehow I seem to be getting caught between an association that does not give me the best chance to win an Olympic medal — because if I was an association boy I would have got my choice of partner — and the boys having their own motives.
I do not want to be in a situation where I want to overthrow an association. I do not want to play politics which is going to distract me away from the game. So, I am not with the group of boys who are trying to do that — at least one section of the group is trying to do that and I don't want to be with that section.
I think there is a much larger section of athletes out there who really want to just play the game for what it's worth.
Unlike say, the Spanish senior pros, Indian seniors don’t seem to look out for the upcoming players. Why have you withdrawn from the present lot?
It’s never ever happened (Indian seniors helping juniors). I tried.
I have not withdrawn from all of them. I have withdrawn from the section of them that wants to play sports politics. I don't enjoy sports politics. I think that I am in the game of tennis for the purity of trying to win Grand Slams, trying to win Olympic medals, trying to play for your country.
Unfortunately, I am stuck also from my own perspective where there are one or two or three people who represent tennis in India, who are making certain decisions that are making me feel like I am not getting the best chance to play for my country.
I am not getting the best chance to win for my country. For me, this political game is not worth playing. One, I am not good at it. Two, I personally feel that everyone is doing it for their own personal motives. It's not being done for really nurturing great youngsters.
Look at it from their point of view. You did not go out of your way to partner Rohan (Rohan Bopanna and Mahesh Bhupathi played the Olympics while Paes always felt he and Bopanna had the best chance for a medal. Paes partnered Vishnu Vardhan).
Rohan had confirmed that we were going to go together. Rohan came to me to play together because of his ambitions for the Olympics. For me, I wanted the best team for the country to play for winning a medal.
Rohan and you, right?
I guarantee that at that point it was Rohan and me. He sent me the calendar of us playing together and then afterwards everything crumbled. I tried to do my bit.
You don't win Olympic medals or Grand Slams easy. It's a culmination of a whole lot of things coming together.
It goes away even if one little thing comes in the way. The margin between winning and losing is one point, not even that, it's one shot.
How do you keep doing it?
I have tried to devise my own lifestyle, whereby reinventing some things that don't work — like my backhand — working on certain things like my fitness. And then using things that do work.
I do it my way, whether right or wrong, I am not here to change anybody. Not here to propagate a political movement, no.
This thing is still bothering you. One would presume you would brush it aside.
I have not brushed it aside but I have backed off from it. I just keep doing my gig, right. I just keep playing my tennis, keep doing my stuff.
What do you think about the atmosphere in the present Davis Cup squad?
Sometimes individualistic, sometimes guarded, I think it would be awesome to have a team that comes together, no? Our Davis Cup team, we have always been a team without much ranking so to say on paper, but we have achieved things that are amazing because of the unity we had. And I would love to see that unity come back.
It's not there anymore?
I ... I think it could get better. What’s heartening is the performance of the boys. Yuki (Bhambri) has done damn well, Ramkumar seems like a nice breath of fresh air, you know he has got a big game. He’s got some talent.
You think they have what it takes?
They have the talent for sure. Now as to whether they have the fitness and the mind....
Fitness, the same usual Indian reason.
How do you define this fitness?
Professional elite fitness and it’s not just being able to get to the ball. First thing is agility. Som (Somdev Devvarman) has great agility, fabulous court coverage. Both of these boys (Yuki and Ram) are tall boys. Nowadays, the tennis player is not just either tall with a big serve or short with great legs. There is a combination happening.
Hereafter, the interaction meandered to just what it takes to make a tennis player and the nuances of off-court training that allow Leander to be as sprightly as he is even at 40. Fascinating stuff for the fitness know-how junkie in this correspondent, but not the best of news copy.
The overbearing feeling that one got talking to Leander about playing for the country is that this is a man who feels he has been grievously wronged. He actually believes that an Olympic medal in tennis was feasible at London provided the fittest two players had paired together. He feels it was lost on account of politics.
That particular incident has left such a deep impression on the fellow who rose to incredible highs while playing for the flag that he has chosen to withdraw from a stage that he has dominated.
With an 88-32 win/loss record, Paes is ranked fourth on the list of all-time Davis Cup greats. His experience would be invaluable to mentor the next rung. But the federation went with the demands of the players and chose Anand Amritraj to be the captain of the squad while the slot had also been promised to Paes. That bit is also bound to upset the 40-year-old who made an unceremonious exit from that job six years ago when Mahesh Bhupathi, Rohan Bopanna and Prakash Amritraj refused to play under him.