He’s playing it sure and steady. Keeping his focus firm and head down, Leander Paes is clawing his way back up the ranking charts ahead of the Rio Olympics in August. How, you ask? The 42-year-old added the Busan Open Challenger title to his overflowing resume on Sunday.
With his ranking going down, Paes knew playing Challengers, the second tier tournaments on the ATP Tour, was a way to garner points. It’s also perfect match practice. Partnering Australian Sam Groth, the top seeds were tested by Thai twins Sanchai and Sonchat Ratiwatana in the final of the $100,000 hard court event in South Korea. However, the Indo-Australian duo won points that mattered, clawing their way back after losing the first set. They ultimately triumphed 4-6, 6-1, 10-7 to get the 110 points on offer. The Thai twins had beaten the Indian pair of Purav Raja and Divij Sharan in the semifinals.
Currently ranked 57, these points will help Paes. With the Rio cutoffs round the corner i.e. the end of the French Open, it’s imperative to gain as many points as possible. While Rohan Bopanna (who is ranked 11) lost in the final of the Madrid Masters on Sunday, he needs to be back in the top-10 by the said date to gain direct acceptance. However, he is defending a lot of points in this period, unlike Paes. If Bopanna fails to reach the top 10, the best chance for India to get a direct entry in Rio is to combine forces with a combined ranking in the 60s. And, to get a chance at the mixed doubles, India needs to have an entry in the men’s doubles.
With nothing left to prove, Paes says he’s playing for fun now. But he plays to win. “I’m one of the original competitors in the world who fights like hell but I have fun doing it,” he says after this hard-fought victory.
“Many asked me why I’m playing Challengers, but for me it’s all about the competition. Yes, I’m attempting to advance my ranking but it’s the same preparation for me whether I play in the Grand Slam or a lower-ranked event. Also, playing so many matches is the perfect way to gain match practice ahead of the Olympics,” Paes adds.
This is his fourth Challenger of the year. He lost in the semifinals at Irving, Texas, with Lukas Rosol, but made it to the final of the event in Leon, Mexico, with Groth. Though they lost in the first round in Taiwan last week, the Groth-Paes combination managed to clear the final hurdle in Busan.