Leander Paes aspires to be a Grand Slam centurion
While Leander Paes mulls over what would be his final Olympic appearance, the Indian tennis icon is also eyeing another landmark before calling it quits.
An international stint that started in the early ‘90s, Leander Paes has had a storied career that has seen win an Olympic medal and bag 18 Grand Slam titles over the last three decades.
Now in the twilight of his playing days, he intends to sign off by extending his own record of seven appearances at the Games and a little more.
“I think a lot of (the decision to continue playing) will be based around the fact that I have a few more magical history goals to achieve,” he said during an Instagram Live show called In The Sportlight, hosted by table tennis player Mudit Dani.
“I have played 97 Grand Slams so far and if I participate in three more, I get to a hundred Grand Slams. So that moves me.
“Also, to get to the eighth Olympics to ensure that India is forever on the top as the most number of Olympics played by a tennis player, that is a benchmark I would like to push up,” he reiterated.
The Indian tennis veteran had announced during Christmas last year that 2020 would be his last year as a tennis player but the postponement of the Games due to the pandemic could change that.
Leander Paes made his 97th Grand Slam appearance at the Australian Open in Melbourne in January and would have reached the 100-mark at Flushing Meadows later this year.
However, with the French Open postponed, Wimbledon cancelled and the status of the US Open still up in the air owing to the coronavirus outbreak, the Indian ace will have to extend his career till 2021 to reach that mark.
Leander made his first Summer Olympics appearances at Barcelona 1992, where he reached the quarter-finals alongside Ramesh Krishnan and made his Grand Slam doubles debut in 1993 alongside Laurence Tieleman at Wimbledon.
It is his second Olympic appearance at Atlanta 1996 where he would become immortalized as an Indian sporting icon. The then 23-year-old reached the semi-final of the Olympic tennis tournament where he was beaten by world no .1 Andre Agassi.
In the bronze medal match against Brazilian Fernando Meligeni, Leander Paes rallied from a set down to win and become the first Indian in 44 years to win an Olympic medal.
The following year, he paired up with compatriot Mahesh Bhupathi and after a strong 1998 season, the duo reached the final of all four Grand Slams in 1999, winning the French and the Wimbledon title. He also won his first mixed doubles Grand Slam title at SW19 alongside American Lisa Raymond.
Leander Paes has since added 15 more Grand Slam titles to his tally, six in men’s doubles and nine in mixed doubles. He has completed the career slam in both, the men’s doubles, and mixed doubles.
But for Leander Paes, there’s one experience that stands out for him.
“I was doing a webinar for the Olympic Channel (where he got emotional after showing his Olympic torch)... no matter all the 800-900 other trophies that I have, no matter how many times I polish them or I hold them up, I remember the memories and they are all so beautiful.
“But every time I hold up my Olympic torch and medals, it gives me goosebumps. It's pretty cool for us to play for such a large community in India,” he beamed.