Leander Paes partnered Radek Stepanek to US Open 2013 men's doubles title and in turn became the oldest man to win a tennis Grand Slam. Paes wore his heart on his sleeve as won his third men's doubles title at the Arthur Ashe Stadium and 14th overall. Indian cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar opines that both Leander and Mahesh Bhupathi are 'incredible'.
Gavaskar, in his column in the TOI, echoed Leander's words that age is merely a number. Paes, after his triumph, had said that at 40 he feels a lot younger than 10 years ago when he went through a lot of adversity and health issues.
"What he has achieved is incredible and justifies the saying that age is just a number," Gavaskar wrote in his column.
That it came at what many may regard as a ripe old age meant little to Paes whose crab dance on the court could have easily outmatched a teenager's exuberance.
Speaking exclusively to NDTV after his triumph, a beaming Paes revealed he had never thought of playing, let alone winning, at 40. "I never thought I would be playing professional tennis at 40 and that I would be the oldest player to win a Grand Slam. But I am very blessed to have a great team around me," he said.
Leander has an Arjuna Award, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award and Padma Shri in his cabinet of national sports awards while another Indian tennis great Bhupathi is yet to receive the Khel Ratna. Gavaskar though believes that the former tennis doubles pairing deserve a lot more.
"Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi have brought glory and joy to Indian sports lovers for so long that it is a surprise that there has not been a demand for them to be given higher honours than what they have received from the government so far," continues Gavaskar.
Paes won the Arjuna Award in 1990 and the Khel Ratna in 1997. Bhupathi won the Arjuna Award in 1995 while both received the Padma Shri in 2001. Recently the All India Tennis Association nominated former Indian Davis Cupper Vijay Amritraj for the Dhyan Chand Award, despite not having the most amicable relationship with the 1976 Wimbledon semi-finalist. Gavaskar feels that 'Lee' and 'Hesh' too deserve "greater recognition".
"Hopefully the tennis federation, which showed such magnanimity while nominating Vijay Amritraj for the lifetime achievement award, despite them not always being on the same page, will now redouble its efforts to ensure that 'Lee' and 'Hesh' get the deserved recognition from the government at the Republic Day awards," says Gavaskar.