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‘Never question my commitment’

Paes was alluding to a piece in these pages that had questioned his absence from the sidelines during Prakash Amritraj's match in the tie against Romania in September, reports Sukhwant Basra.

sports Updated: Nov 03, 2008 23:52 IST
Sukhwant Basra

Leander Paes has a pain in the neck that has left him somewhat stiff. The spontaneous warmth he usually displays is there but the 'let's-hug-first' Leander is holding back. Paes the player is cold, logical and knows just how to brush aside all posers on court. But Leander the man is emotional, instinctive and right now, he is just hopping mad. "How can you journalists keep questioning my commitment to the Davis Cup? After all these years… you guys are a pain in the neck."

Paes was alluding to a piece in these pages that had questioned his absence from the sidelines during Prakash Amritraj's match in the tie against Romania in September. "Let's set the record straight. My job was to warm up Somdev (Devvarman) for the second match," he barks. That out of the way, he cools down. It takes two cups of masala chai to have him warming back to his old self.

Best 14 results of the year decide the final list of teams that will figure in the prestigious, season-ending tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai. Leander Paes and Lukas Dlouhy have played all of 11 since they came together this May at the French Open. Two of those saw first round exits and hence zero points. Amazingly enough, the pair still grabbed their berth.

"The edge came from us believing we would make it. Belief is half the battle won," says Leander, the thaw completely set in by now. He smiles. At 35, he figures in his ninth season finale. "I may not be as fast as I used to be, but am still quicker than the rest of the pack," he laughs in response to a query on whether age is catching up. "I look after my body. I don't smoke or drink," he explains. Strolling through his personal gym he points to a treadmill, "That's the third one, the other two wore out."

There's an exercise mat tucked away neatly in another nook. "Ask that just how many sit-ups I do. When I can't sleep, I come here in the wee hours."

"Lukas and I clicked together surprisingly fast. Of the three Grand Slams we have paired in, we reached the semis of just the third tournament (Wimbledon) we played. The final of the US Open followed."

Paes is going to Shanghai all fired up. "Playing our best we can best any team in the world. I aim to be there six days before the event begins to make sure I am totally adjusted. I want this one, along with the Australian Open, the Masters title is the only one missing." And that Olympic gold?

"Playing mixed and doubles is not a great load. Barring injury I am still gunning for London 2012," he glares, still miffed at missing out in Beijing even though he and Mahesh Bhupathi were playing incredible tennis till Roger Federer's voodoo hexed them.

There has been talk of him figuring in the Davis Cup singles at home. "Now that I am not captain, that is more of a possibility as I held myself back trying to groom the team. Now, the call can be on merit alone."

Trying to figure out the precise details of how he has spent 1.25 crore last year on travel and just how his phone bill is in the vicinity of two lakh a month are some of the 'normal' tasks that Paes plods through when back in India. It's time to slip away before he unleashes another of those razor-sharp volleys.

"Don't ever question my commitment to Indian tennis," he manages to slam one in parting." Still, you can't help smile at his prickliness. But okay, Leander, point taken.