By 36, most tennis players retire. Their bodies give up. But not Leander Adrian Paes, who seems to be entering an exalted zone where he is still pulling off big wins with incredible regularity.
“Honestly, I am winning for I have reached a stage where I just don’t have to prove anything any more. That allows me to have fun out there without any pressure. The best tennis happens when one plays without the pressure of always having to win,” Paes told HT from Melbourne, after claiming his 11th Grand Slam title on Sunday with Zimbabwean partner Cara Black.
Paes and Black took the Australian Open mixed doubles crown, beating the Czech-Russian pairing of Jaroslav Levinksy and Ekaterina Makarova 7-5, 6-3. Paes has
figured in 21 Slam doubles finals so far and said he is not stopping anytime soon.
“Earlier, I’d have 10 shots planned in my head, now I keep it simpler. It took a long time to devise a method to win. Now, I have the formula,” said Paes. “Over the last two-three years, I am playing better doubles than earlier because I am more economical in my shot-making.
“Recovery has become the crucial thing now. Off days between matches are all about yoga, meditation and massages along with the right mix of fluid intake and diet.
“It helps that I never smoked or indulged in alcohol,” he added.
But for the man who left home at the age of 13 to sculpt his tennis destiny, it is getting lonely out there.
“The week after week of travel is tough. I miss my family and especially my daughter Aiyana. But as long as I am enjoying it out on court, I will go on,” he said.
Surely, the fact that his estranged former partner Mahesh Bhupathi had more Slam titles than him rankled at some level? With this win, Paes has leveled the score.
“What people don't seem to figure is that after you have won a number of titles, they just become numbers.
“After that you only care about the enjoyable ones like my last one,” he said laughing, without mentioning that he is referring to his victory over Bhupathi and partner at the US Open last year.
Paes is hardly resting on his laurels.
“The Commonwealth and Asian Games are priorities for me. I play my best when the pride of the tricolour is at stake,” he said.
Ever since tennis was included in the Asian Games in 1958, India have won 17 medals. Paes has played a part in garnering nine of them since he debuted in 1990.