The R-word crops up whenever Leander Paes is around nowadays. Even though the 43-year-old tennis star has reiterated it innumerable times that he has not thought of retirement and wants to continue playing for as long as he is enjoying the game, questions are still being asked on his future plans.
Paes, who made his Davis Cup debut in 1990, has played a total of 54 ties, the most by an Indian, and at 42 doubles wins is currently tied with Italy’s Nicola Pietrangeli as the most successful player in the prestigious tennis team competition for men.
In 27 years in the circuit, he has won everything that Davis Cup and tennis has to offer – ATP singles title, doubles titles, Grand Slam titles, he has won them all, many times over.
There are basically three reasons for the issue of retirement to crop up again as Paes gears up with the Davis Cup Asia Oceania Group 1 tie against New Zealand starting in Pune on Friday.
Dip in rankings
His advancing age is one, the recent dip in his rankings – at 64 he goes into a Davis Cup match at his lowest ranking in recent times, and the upcoming change in team management with Mahesh, his estranged doubles partner, set to take over as team captain from Anand Amritraj after the New Zealand tie.
But Paes says he wants to continue till he is enjoying playing tennis. “I want to continue till I am enjoying playing tennis; the court is where I am happiest. I am doing well, had some great matches in the last few months,” Paes told journalists here during the Indian team’s final practice session before Thursday’s draw.
The 43-year-old said he is currently at his fittest as he has tipped the scale at 80.2 kg, having weighed between 80-120kg since 2003 (when he had a health scare because of a brain abscess).
No confrontation with Bhupathi
Paes and Bhupathi have shared a relationship that has traversed from good to bad and ugly at the drop of a hat and the latter’s upcoming elevation as Davis Cup captain has raised doubts of another confrontation between the two. But Paes dismissed all such thoughts. He said Bhupathi sitting court-side as captain will be great help considering his vast experience. “What could be better than having your partner sitting with you and talking to you about your service and giving his inputs,” Paes added.
The Indian tennis legend said he was enjoying mentoring youngsters in the team and had good words about his teammates Yuki Bhambri, Saketh Myneni and Ramkumar Ramanathan and hitting partners Adil Kalyanpur and Nitin Kumar Sinha.
Paes also takes inspiration from the recent Australian Open final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, two players in their 30s who were never expected to be in the summit clash when the tournament started. For him, that final should have ended all talk of age being a factor in playing good tennis.