The Indian tennis legend had faced Andre Agassi at the Atlanta 1996 semi-final.
After playing professional tennis for 29 years, where he won 18 Grand Slam titles and an Olympic medal, a candid Leander Paes admitted on an Instagram Live session that he never had good stroke play, a view Andre Agassi alluded to in his autobiography.
Elaborating on the story, Leander Paes recalled his meeting with Anand Amritraj as a 12-year-old ball boy at Kolkata’s South Club, which changed his life forever.
Leander Paes was chosen to hit with Anand Amritraj during a Davis Cup tie training and the youngster was so impressive that he was picked for the Amritraj Tennis Academy in Chennai.
But Leander Paes revealed he knew nothing about playing tennis then.
“Anand Amritraj was impressed by how I kept chasing the ball all the way even to the doubles court. I certainly know my tennis strokes have never impressed anybody,” chuckled Leander Paes in his conversation with radio host Hrishikesh Kannan on the social media platform.
“Just as Andre [Agassi] said as well: “[imitates] ‘He is a bunch of kinetic energy who does not know how to hit a tennis ball.’”
Leander Paes had faced Andre Agassi at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics semi-finals where the Indian was beaten 6-7, 3-6 in straight sets before he went on to win the bronze medal in his next outing.
Explaining Leander Paes’ strange style of play in his autobiography, Andre Agassi had called the Kolkata-born player a “flying jumping bean”.
“In the semis, I meet Leander Paes, from India. He’s a flying jumping bean, a bundle of hyperkinetic energy, with the tour’s quickest hands. Still, he’s never learned to hit a tennis ball. He hits off-speed, hacks, chips, lobs — he’s the Brad (Gilbert) of Bombay,” read a passage from the book Open: An Autobiography.
“Then, behind all his junk, he flies to the net and covers so well that it all seems to work. After an hour you feel as if he hasn’t hit one ball cleanly - and yet he’s beating you soundly,” Andre Agassi goes on to add.
Having started playing tennis late, Leander Paes was never drawn by long rallies and his source for quick points would be drop shots.
And Akhtar Ali, a former tennis player and a member of Indian Davis Cup team who trained Leander Paes during his formative years never advocated it.
“Akhtar [Ali] sir gave me a nickname ‘chalaaki’ (cunning) because he felt I played too many drop shots all the time,” Leander Paes narrates.
“I kept on trying to explain to him that I don't have a good tennis technique. I started tennis late. So, obviously, I have to do ‘chalaaki’ to win points," Paes explained.
“You hit drop shots, let them come forward, and then you hit the lob,” he smiled.
The practice turned out to be a career-defining skill for Leander Paes later as his unparalleled drop shots and volleys fetched him numerous titles that even Andre Agassi commended.
“He just flew around the court, and had some of the best shots that tennis has ever seen,” Andre Agassi had told the Economic Times in an interview last year. “Leander really had a way of disrupting your rhythm... he caused me a lot of ‘aggravation’ throughout the match.”