Fire in his belly, Leander Paes feeling ‘physically and emotionally ready’ for Tokyo

The Indian tennis legend, who will turn 48 next June, will play a record eighth Olympics if he makes it to the Tokyo Olympics.

By Rahul Venkat ·

Tennis superstar Leander Paes was all set to bring his long playing career to a close with the Tokyo Olympics this year.

Paes competed at the Australian Open at the start of the year, played tournaments at Bengaluru and Pune, then presumed to be his last appearances on court in India, took part in the Davis Cup, and was building up for a second Olympic medal push in Tokyo.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a break to ‘One Last Roar’ – as Paes called his final season on tour.

Questions loomed large over Paes’ future and another shot an Olympic medal in 2021. The legend recently put doubts to rest.

“After this long break, I feel happy. I have no doubt in my mind that physically, mentally and emotionally, I would be ready for Tokyo,” Paes stated.

“For me, it’s very important to ensure India’s name stays in the history books and that is why I have continued my career for 30 years.”

The Indian tennis legend has played in seven consecutive Olympic Games – starting with his debut in Barcelona 1992, a bronze medal run at Atlanta 1996, all the way to Rio 2016.

Not just making up numbers

It is a record for the most number of Olympic appearances in tennis and Paes is motivated enough to push that number up to eight. And he dispelled any notions that he would only turn up in Tokyo to enhance the record.

“I’m working very hard. It’s not just about participation, if I’m going to the Olympics, I will go to win and not just to make up the numbers,” Paes added.

While the Olympic bronze medallist has proven time and again that he has not lost any of his skills and motivation with age, there are still a few sceptics who question if his body can hold up for the Tokyo Olympics at the age of 48 next year. But Paes is unfazed.

“Age is just a number,” he reiterated. “The tennis ball does not know the age of a human being hitting the ball. It understands power and spin. It’s what we do that matters.”

Leander Paes has not played competitively since March this year. He is likely to return to action in the 2021 Australian Open.