Want to Leave the Game on a High Like Pele, Mohammad Ali, Says Leander Paes
Leander Paes said he was targeting a medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics before bidding farewell to his illustrious career that fetched him 14 Grand Slam titles and an Olympic bronze medal in singles.
Indian tennis legend Leander Paes says he aspires to exit from the game just like global icons Pele and Mohammad Ali who bid adieu to their respective sports when they were at the pinnacle of their careers.
A much fitter and leaner Paes, 41, says winning a medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics would give him such opportunity.
"That (winning a medal at Rio) would give me a chance to go on a high from the game. I have always looked up to people like Mohammed Ali, who left at the pinnacle of his career. I looked up to someone like a Pele, a Michael Jordan, a Carl Lewis, a Rod Laver, who left at the pinnacle of their careers, I think you have got the trend," Paes told PTI in an exclusive interview.
Paes, winner of 14 Grand Slam titles and an Olympic bronze medallist in singles, feels it is imperative for a tennis player with a game like his to draw a fine "balance between strength and flexibility".
"For me it's about athleticism. My game is based on speed and quick reflexes so my training system is all about staying injury free. I make sure that my tennis specific muscles are in good shape, with strength and flexibility," he said.
"You cannot be over-strong and less flexible, you have to be flexible for an agile sport like tennis," he added.
Paes is going through a very tough phase in his life as he is locked in legal battle with partner Rhea Pillai for the custody of their daughter.
He chose not to speak on the issue in detail but when asked if it impacted his performance this year, the eternal man of Indian tennis said, "Of course it has."
But insisted that he knows what it takes to perform and win at the big stage.
"I have done it for so many years. I have played tennis at such a high level that I have the awareness what it takes to win Grand Slams, what it takes to win big doubles matches, to handle pressure in Davis Cup situations, that experience helps me out," he said.
"But at the end of the day, I am a human being and I feel the same emotions, anyone would feel through a tough time," he admitted.
Asked if his eight-year-old daughter Aiyana understands what's going on between her parents, Paes did not divulge much but came across as a caring and concerned father.
"I am a very passionate father. I make sure that she is secured and protected. At the same time I am passionate about my tennis. Every human being who goes through a tough situation has to deal with adversity.
"I am blessed to have many parents around, they are great support. I am blessed to have my team around who have been with for me 20, 23 years, supporting me. I am very blessed to have a strong daughter, who has a very honest relationship with me. She needs guidance as she grows and guidance through this also," Paes explained.
"I have to make sure she goes through her day, knowing that she has full support from her papa and everyone else around her."
Talk about tennis and his eyes light up again.
He paid a glowing tribute to American twins -- the Bryan brothers, Mike and Bob -- who captured a historic 100th ATP title recently, a feat which will stand the test of the time.
"It's phenomenal. What will not be replicated is twins, coming out and winning 100 titles together. That brand of tennis is special. I have tremendous respect for the boys, they are great ambassadors of the game," he said.
Paes, who has recorded a number of Davis Cup victories for India, was impressed with Somdev Devvarman's spectacular win in the fourth rubber against Dusan Lajovic on Sunday.
Somdev pulled off a gigantic five-set victory to level scores 2-2 with Serbia in the fourth play-off tie. But India failed it to return to the World Group as Yuki Bhambri lost the fifth and final rubber on Monday.
"One of the best things about Somdev is that he puts his heart and fitness into his game. He plays with a lot of passion. All of us in the team know that whether he wins or not, he is going to put his heart on the court every day. He keeps himself in top fitness shape.
"If you look at his fitness, the endurance of the match, in the fifth set, he was the stronger player. The one thing I am impressed with Somdev's game is that he makes sure his physicality and mind is ready every day," said Paes.
"Yesterday what I was happy to see that he mixed his game. He was not just staying at the baseline and loop balls, he was happy to take the short ball from the opponent and hit them from for winners," Paes, who won the doubles tie with Rohan Bopanna, added.
Asked if it was better if Somdev tweaked his game a bit and came more on net since he got many points with this strategy against Lajovic, Paes felt the top singles player of the country just needed to be flexible in his strategy.
"As much as Somdev is not a natural serve and volley player, he has got soft hands. He can play these drop shots, he can play volleys at sharp angles. I was pleased to see that in crucial situation, he kicked the second serve into the backhand corner, came and play the volley in to the open court and that's why he won the game yesterday because he mixed up his game," the veteran explained.
During the tie, Rohan, Somdev and others said the Paes' presence and passion inspires them. The players seem to share a close bond with each other.
Asked if he would like to comeback as Davis Cup captain in future, Paes said, "That is not in my control only. What is in my control is that if offer comes and it is at a right time, I can make a difference to the team. I am not averse to it. But this time, we have a very good captain in Anand he does well for the team.
"What's fantastic about team environment is that you have different individuals on the bench. This match I and Rohan were communicating wonderfully. I would go to Somdev between the points, it was just a look some time, just emotion, I have a great relation with Somdev," said Paes.
He is a hero for his side and many budding tennis players, who look up to him. Even Somdev said after wining the match that Paes' feedback during the tense duel with Lajovic was crucial in defeating the Serbian.
But who Paes looks up to when he needs guidance or need to come out of slump, he said, "Growing up as a kid I used to look at people who have achieved excellence in sporting world, in humanity on the global stage. I met many different individuals, you get to know the real person behind the brand and for me whether it is a child, a driver, a king, PM or President or my teammates, every human being has strengths and weaknesses. So what I try to do is to learn from human beings and know about their strength and incorporate in my life.
"For example Anand, he is on the bench, he has lot of experience in doubles, so I talk to him about doubles statistics, percentage tennis. When it comes to my father, I talk about life. When it comes to Aiyana, I talk about her life on daily basis and that can teach me many things.
"If I am going through my travels, I get to meet so many people, it could be an Andre Agassi, Nelson Mandela, a Mohammed Ali. Everyone has a story and I try to learn from them," he revealed.
Paes also shared what he does when he is not playing tennis.
"I do my own style of business. I do corporate talks. I have spoken all around the globe. I focus on motivation, life, team building. These are things I live with. I like to focus on excellence. I take values of the companies I talk about and then incorporate my life learnings and then I speak to the audience.
"In a modern life which is fast pace and demanding, the margins are very small. What I have learnt in my tennis life are similar to the corporate world," he explained.
Asked who his clients were and Paes said Dell Computer, Microsoft, Pune University and individuals.
"The last one I did was when I was in New York during the US Open," he concluded.