Leander Paes: A True Leader in World TeamTennis
By Jeremy Richfield
Tennis is usually all about the individual and the personal goals that the athlete tries to achieve.
Midway through his career, Leander Paes had a choice to make.
“I knew I could get past the top 50 in singles, but I wanted to prove to the world and my country that we could be at the top in any field and teaming up in doubles was it,” said Washington Kastles star Leander Paes, after a match against the Freedoms on July 13.
As the Freedoms took the Kastles into overtime, only to lose in a supertiebreaker, Paes almost appeared to be a second coach for the Kastles, marching onto the court and pumping up his team with enthusiasm.
“It’s really like magic playing in front of these fans, who take time out of their hard work schedule to come and see me,” Paes said.
“The crowd absolutely helps. I can really feel the electricity playing in front of people whether they’re rooting for or against me and I’m blessed to have such a wide fan base around the world,” Paes explained.
At the age of 36, Paes is widely known for his continued success on the ATP tour in doubles, winning 5 grand slams including his most recent title at the French Open.
Paes said his parents, who both participated in the 1972 Munich Olympics for India, motivated him to start playing tennis.
“I was probably a more talented soccer player, but tennis is an individual sport and I wanted to do something I could improve on individually,” said Paes, who has been the Indian Davis Cup team captain since 2004.
Coming up on his 5th Olympic appearance, Paes says he prides himself on being fit and still having the fire to play.
Paes won a bronze medal in singles for India at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and has received the Padma Shri, an award for his renowned contribution to India in the area of sports.
“The most memorable moment as a tennis player for me would be winning the medal for my country and my people,” said Paes without hesitation while signing an autograph for a lucky fan.
“I think that it’s the greatest honor for any athlete to represent his country and I love that responsibility,” said Paes.
As for the tennis veteran, it is his first year participating in World Team Tennis and so far he is enjoying every minute of it.
“I love the team atmosphere said Paes, “ and I have the utmost respect for Billie Jean King and everything that she has done for the sport of tennis.”