As he battled a freak injury and nerves in the French Open men's doubles final, ace Indian tennis player Leander Paes said an inspiring eye contact with his legendary former mixed doubles partner Martina Navratilova lifted his spirits.
Paes and Czech Lukas Dlouhy rallied from a set down to clinch the French Open title which was the Indian's ninth career Grand Slam.
Paes got hit between his eyes by a return volley during the match and required treatment. The 35-year-old said Navratilova's presence in the audience gallery helped him get over these testing moments of the match.
"Whenever I look at a person like Navratilova, she gives me a lot of inspiration. It was strange that just at the end of the second set when we were getting a bit nervous and a bit edgy, she came out there and was just making eye contact.
"Lukas served three doubles faults early in the third set. I told him at one point, Martina is out there. Come on. Have a look at her. She's inspiring us."
Paes described Navratilova, a 20-time Wimbledon champion with whom he won the 2003 Wimbledon and Australian Open mixed doubles titles, as his soulmate and said the American has been by his side through some of the most trying times of his life.
"Martina has been a soulmate for many years. We've been through a lot in life, especially me in the last eight years. She's been along with me, supporting me, guiding me at times," Paes said.
"When I was diagnosed with cancer and I couldn't play, she basically stayed away from the game and didn't play mixed doubles until I came back," he added.
Paes also lauded his opponents in the French Open finals -- Dick Norman and Wesley Moodie.
"Dick and Wesley served really huge and made it difficult for us. They did a great job in getting to the final," Paes, whose career doubles titles count stands at 40, said.
Reflecting on his partnership with Dlouhy with whom he finished runner-up at Roland Garros last year, Paes said, "We started playing together at Roland Garros last year. We lost then to the champions so we made it a point that we would come back and try and win it this year."