Davis Cup isn’t just about having the game, it’s far more to do with heart.
Leander Paes, the man who defines raw, warrior courage when playing tennis for the country, was the stable anchor as Saketh Myneni let loose to, for the first time in this tie, allow hope for a win. But the Rio gold-winning doubles combination of Rafael Nadal and Marc Lopez were just too solid when it came to the crunch and prevailed 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-4 in three hours and 23 minutes.
Though the Indians lost, it was a match that gave heart. It showed again that when you have a prime player like Paes in your side, the impossible begins to look likely. Paes again proved that when it comes to playing for India, few can whip up the kind of passion he does. Usually that passion coasts India to a win, but that was not to be against the poise and sheer hitting ability of the Spanish pair on Saturday.
AMONG THE GREATS
Nadal was suitably humble in victory hailing Paes as: “One of the best players in the history of the game in doubles.”
Paes has got a lot of flak of late in sections of the press that doubted his commitment to playing for the country.
All kinds of stories were planted against the veteran and the 43-year-old’s seventh Olympic Games were ruined for him when he found that despite his seniority, he was not even given a designated place to sleep in the Games village. His acrimonious relationship with Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna saw the two gang up to sideline him.
Things got so bad in the village for Paes that he chose to spend the majority of his time at Rio in the company of some journalists who have known him for a while. Paes feeds off positive vibes and can put away any unpleasantness off the court when playing for India. So could Mahesh Bhupathi. But not some of the other star players.
HANGING IN THERE
In the last few years of his career, Paes was almost driven to the verge of calling it quits after Rio. The negativity in the press and within the team made him wonder just what he was carrying on for.
“What goals do I have to achieve? Is playing for the country worth so little that I face disrespect at this stage of my career?” he often asked your correspondent in Rio.
It just took a week’s hard training at his base in Orlando for him to get his head sorted. Constant exhortations from a team of well-wishers firmed up his resolve and Paes decided he would hit back at his detractors the only way he knew best: his racquet would do the talking for him.
On Saturday, he almost anchored the incredible but the inexperience of his partner and the ferociousness of the opposition proved to be two obstacles too much. In the process, Paes also displayed that his detractors in Indian tennis have only fired him up to keep rewriting the record books.
Paes was quite clear after the match: “India, I am not retiring soon. There is still a record to chase.”
The record in question is that of Italian Nicola Pietrangeli. Both are tied at 42 doubles wins in the all-time Cup greats list.
That apart, Paes had shrugged off his Rio gloom when your correspondent caught up with him earlier this week and is instead looking at playing more lower-level tournaments to get his ranking up even as he is quite confident that he will gun for at least two more slams before he calls it a day.
This man is not going away soon, and given our bench strength in Davis Cup, that can only be a good thing.