At 40, most tennis players hang up their on-court boots. A few others make the rare comeback but hardly make the headlines. Then there is Leander Paes.
The 40-year-old Indian partnered Radek Stepanek to win the US Open 2013 men's doubles title on Sunday, going past Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares 6-1 in 6-3. In the process, Paes became the oldest player to win a Grand Slam title - which was his eight overall. (Also see: Highlights | Match in pics)
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. (Suggested read: Paes, through the years)
Paes however admitted that age is just a number and that he has faced testing times when he was younger. "I think age is just a number. For me, about 10 years ago, I went through a lot of adversity healthwise and in those days, I felt a lot older than I do now," he said. "I think when you have a new leash of life, a second breath, you realise how fragile life is. You live it with a lot of heart and with as much passion as you've got."
LP!!! 40?? Really??? Moving like he is 20.. Inspiring stuff #usopen2013- Mahesh Bhupathi (@Maheshbhupathi) September 8, 2013
He also had a message for middle-aged people, advising them to keep fighting hard. "When I see the Dhanraj Pillay's of the world, the Sachin Tendulkars and the Rahul Dravids, I feel inspired by the way they have conducted themselves. So, I just want to say that if for all the guys out there who are close to 40 or above 40, we are still fighting strong."
Paes also specifically mentioned the role that his family has played and continues to in helping him scale new highs in tennis. "I have been very blessed to have great parents around me, very blessed to have great sisters around me and my coaches have been phenomenal."
At Arthur Ashe Stadium here, the support was on ample display. The Indo-Czech pair was seeded fourth but fought hard and brave. Paes was all praise for Stepanek who, he said, was a determined fighter. "I guess when you have a great partner, it's a lot of fun. Radek is a wonderful teammate, one of the best partners I have had. 2013 has been a trying year for both of us but to persevere together as a team and to culminate US Open with a win is really wonderful."