Leander Paes will give the French Open a miss this year. The season's second Grand Slam will start in Paris on May 25. In the middle of a bitter custody war with partner Rhea Pillai over daughter Aiyana, Paes has been off tennis for almost seven weeks.
According to a report in the Times of India, Paes has flown to the US to work on his fitness. The report quotes his hockey Olympian father, Dr Vece Paes, who has confirmed that Leander will spend three weeks in Florida to be fit for the grasscourt season starting June. Grass has been Leander's favourite surface ever since he won the junior Wimbledon title in 1990.
Doubles specialist Leander, who has won 14 Grand Slam titles, has never the red clay at Ronald Garros ever since making his French Open debut in 1997. Three of his eight men's Grand Slam doubles titles have come on clay, twice winning with Mahesh Bhupathi (1999 and 2001) and once with Czech partner Lukas Dlouhy (2009).
"His regular partner Radek Stepanek doesn't play the French Open, and he wasn't keen on teaming up with a new guy in Paris," said Paes Sr to the newspaper. Last year, Leander paired with Austrian Jurgen Melzer at the French, but the duo was shown the door in the second round.
"He still toyed with the idea of playing the French because it's the only Slam where he hasn't won the mixed doubles yet, but finally decided against it as we felt he needed to work out before returning to competitive tennis," informed Dr Paes.
In recent weeks, 40-year-old Leander has grabbed headlines for non-tennis reasons. His custody battle with Rhea Pillai over their daughter is making headlines. Even friend-turned-foe Bhupathi has come in support of Leander, saying his ex-doubles partner was a 'doting' father. Leander last played an international event in March, losing in the first round.
Leander will now have to fight two battles. While the first will be to realise his dreams of touching Roger Federer's record of 17 Grand Slam titles, the second will be on his daughter's custody.
"I categorically deny all the allegations and lies made against me by Rhea Pillai. My lawyers and I have documentary proof to support every single claim in the guardianship petition I have filed. I hope justice will prevail in the interest of my daughter and would leave the process of investigation to the Courts of India," Leander has said.