Leander Paes gears up for mixed magic at French Open 2016

  • Sharmistha Chaudhuri, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: May 31, 2016 12:52 IST
Partnering Poland’s Marcin Matkowski, the 42-year-old will play the former American world No 1 duo, Mike and Bob Bryan in the last-eight stage of French Open. (Photo: Twitter)

It was 16 years ago that Roland Garros faced a total washout as it did on Monday.

An entire day of rain that left the red clay soggy annoyed tennis fans looking for ticket reimbursements. There were a lot of comments online for the organisers to come good on the roof that has been in the pipeline for years.

The lost day suggests more tennis and not much break for the players in the second week of the year’s second Grand Slam.

But Leander Paes is unperturbed. “Most probably we have to play two matches tomorrow,” he says casually from Paris on Monday evening. It’s not every day that one makes the quarterfinals of two events in a Grand Slam.

Partnering Poland’s Marcin Matkowski, the 42-year-old will play the former American world No 1 duo, Mike and Bob Bryan, in the last-eight stage of the men’s doubles. The quarterfinal opponents in mixed doubles, where he partners Martina Hingis, is undecided.

The battlefield

Rain is nothing new in the life of a tennis player. A battle with the elements is as challenging as a war on court. “You can’t really do much in this rain. I just finished my gym, cardio and stretching. I will head off to do rehab in a bit. I hear it will rain again tomorrow, but we hope it clears up for a bit so we can get some tennis in,” he says.

He says it lightly but there is no mistaking the determination in his voice. “I’ve worked extremely hard to get this far. You have to be physically and mentally strong (to get to the quarters of two events in a Major). It does need a mammoth physical effort because clay can be extremely demanding,” says the 17-time Grand Slam champion. “I’m getting closer to number 18, don’t you think?” he asks.

The numbers

Well, would it be viable to suggest he’s getting closer to number 19 instead? “See, I don’t look at expectations at all. I’m in good form getting to the quarters. For me, the second week is the heart of a Grand Slam. The first week is always hard but the second week is when the magic happens. One has to create magic to win and take the match because the margin between a win and a loss is very small. It could be a backhand, a missed volley or even a crosscourt winner,” is how Paes puts it.

With Swiss Miss Hingis, Paes captured three Grand Slams last year, while with Matkowski he won the Malaysian Open in 2014.

“Martina and I are undefeated when we play for the Washington Kastles (in World Team Tennis). We have a great understanding, we know each other’s game very well and we complement well on court,” Paes explains. After all, it’s not easy to capture three mixed doubles Majors during the first year of partnership. In the men’s, Paes and Matkowski, seeded 16th, beat the reigning Australian Open champions Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares. The year 1999 is etched in the memory of Indian tennis fans.

Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi did the unthinkable by reaching the final of all four Grand Slams, winning two. That very year, Paes won a double Major at Wimbledon. Beating Paul Haarhuis and Jared Palmer for the men’s title at SW19, he went back on court with American Lisa Raymond to beat Anna Kournikova and Jonas Bjorkman.

Winning the 2012 Australian Open with Radek Stepanek gave Paes a career Grand Slam in men’s doubles, but he’s yet to complete one such in mixed. “I’ve reached the final in Roland Garros (2005), but I’ve never won. If I win here, I would complete a career Grand Slam in mixed doubles so that would be a milestone.”

Wouldn’t it be fantastic to achieve the double again? “I just want to go out to win,” he smiles. With 17 Grand Slams and 33 finals, even a layman can figure out who the most successful Indian player is.

Sweet cravings

Anyone who has a sweet tooth must have heard of the famous Parisian pastry store, Laduree. The original creator of the macaron, it would be a shame not to walk down Champs Elysees and drop in at the shop.

As it’s a rainy day, wouldn’t it be nice to go and grab one, especially since Paes’ sweet tooth is well known? He had once said, “I don’t eat sweets because once I start I can’t stop.”

“No way,” he laughs as the rain pours in Paris. But he does a quick rethink. “Maybe that could be my incentive to win, no? All for one macaron!”

If Paes achieves what he came to Paris for, the macaron would be well worth it.

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