From a brush with 9/11 to a stint in Bollywood, Paes has had a thrilling life off-court too
Very few sportspersons in the world could actually boast of a career as colourful as Leander Paes’s.
The veteran tennis player has experienced adventures both on and off the court - so let's take a look at some of the things you may not have previously realised about the Indian legend:
Though it was only compatriot Mahesh Bhupathi and Czech Republic’s Radek Štěpánek alongside whom Leander Paes won Grand Slams in the men’s doubles category, the doubles maestro played with over 100 players for men doubles events throughout his career.
In the mixed doubles, the number is more than 20, although it was only alongside USA’s Lisa Raymond and Martina Navratilova, Zimbabwe’s Cara Black, and Switzerland’s Martina Hingis that Leander fetched the elusive titles.
Though Paes was the 47th player to notch up 100 different partners, not many could boast of 18 doubles titles like him.
Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi have been household names in India, a country where tennis doesn’t generate as much traction as cricket. The Paes-Bhupathi partnership, dubbed 'Lee-Hesh', despite having courted its share of controversies, walked away with a title on most occasions.
Enjoying a win-loss ratio of 303–103, Paes and Bhupathi boast of a Davis Cup record for the longest doubles winning streak — 24 straight wins. The pair didn’t lose a single match in the tournament from 1995 to 2010.
In a country like India, which hardly produces tennis talents as frequently as it does in cricket or kabaddi, Paes was a breed apart.
Born to renowned athlete parents Vece Paes, who was a midfielder in the bronze medal-winning Indian field hockey team at the 1972 Munich Olympics, and Jennifer Paes, who captained the Indian basketball team in the 1980 Asian basketball championship, Leander was a natural.
And the signs came very early on in his career, when, after taking up the sport as a 12-year-old, Paes managed to get his hands on the Junior Wimbledon and US Open titles just five years later in 1991. One year later, he would go on to reach the quarter-finals of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics before finally clinching the bronze medal in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Leander's timing to try out a Bollywood stint surprised many, as he chose to act in a film, ‘Rajdhani Express’ at a time when he was third in world ranking.
Paes played the lead role in his Bollywood debut, which also featured prominent names like Jimmy Sheirgill, Gulshan Grover and Sayali Bhagat. It didn’t quite click in the box office.
The 9/11 attacks in New York witnessed planes crashing into the World Trade Center and reportedly 3,000 people losing their lives. Among the ones who narrowly escaped was Leander Paes, who was at a shopping mall inside the Twin Towers hours before the attack happened.
“I still have a receipt. I bought some khaki pants. I was going back to India for a birthday for three days before coming back to Winston-Salem for Davis Cup. I was there probably 10 hours before it happened,” Paes had revealed in an interview with AFP.
The Rio 2016 Olympics was Paes’ record seventh Olympics appearance.
He teamed up with Rohan Bopanna after a lot of back and forth but couldn’t reach the Games Village until a day before the extravaganza was scheduled to begin.
Paes, reportedly, had other commitments in the World Team Tennis tournament in New York and could hardly train with Bopanna before the Games.
Things exacerbated further after Paes arrived in Rio only to find out that he wasn’t allotted a room, he later revealed.
When you are at the peak of your career for so long, wealth isn’t something one would be concerned about. And being the sport star that Paes has always been, he has never really run out of it.
Consequently, his car collection is also something one to envy, including such beautiful machines as the Porsche Cayenne and Ford Endeavour.
Paes hasn’t always been an easy partner to work with, and after the London Olympics, Sania Mirza had been quite public about her unwillingness to partner the Indian legend. His inconsistent form in those years also played a part in it.
However, he partnered Martina Hingis three years later and went on to win the Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open in 2015, and the French Open in 2016.
Playing so long in one’s career would inevitably require immense will power and passion towards the sport. And one look at the persons Paes has always idolised gives a good hint as to where he has gotten those qualities.
He got his grit from legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, compassion from Mother Teresa, and has managed to hold on to those virtues simultaneously throughout his life.
With tennis being a tremendously athletic sport which takes a toll on the body after every intense session, one would expect Paes to be more into activities that would calm the rush.
He is passionate about scuba diving - taking him into a whole different environment a world away from the ferocity of the tennis court.