Indian tennis great Leander Paes said that participation at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics is still very much on his agenda and suggested that he is eying a return to competitive tennis at the French Open in May.
Heading into 2020, Leander had declared he would be retiring at the end of the calendar year. Playing the Tokyo Olympics was his primary objective.
However, with COVID-19 disrupting the sporting calendar and causing the Summer Games to be postponed to 2021, Leander’s ‘Last Roar’ was shelved. The deferment caused the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bronze medallist to reconsider his retirement.
The 47-year-old Leander is yet to make a formal announcement about his decision but, in a recent interview, noted that the Tokyo Olympics is still in his plans before calling it a day.
“The Tokyo Olympics is still in my vision. It’s my goal to represent India in eight successive Olympics,” Leander said while speaking at the launch event of a cricket tournament in Kolkata, named after his hockey Olympian father Vece Paes.
Having represented India in each of the last seven Olympics since 1992, Leander Paes already holds the record for most number of Olympics appearances by any tennis player in history. Canada’s Daniel Nestor had six.
“I’ve been practising hard, putting in three hours every day and I’m in the last 100m sprint of a long career. Tokyo Olympics is important to make sure India remains in the record books,” Paes added.
The road, though, will be a tough one for Leander, who has been out of competitive tennis since last year due to the pandemic. He last played at an ITF event in Zagreb, Croatia, in March before COVID hit.
With the tennis calendar resuming post the lockdown, Leander chose to sit out of the Australian Open due to his concerns about playing in a bio-bubble environment.
“Playing sport in a bio-bubble is very tough and may not be the best thing to do. I got a grand farewell at the Australian Open last year so I felt this year I would be sitting out and watching,” Leander said.
Leander, however, hinted that he has been eyeing the next Grand Slam – the French Open – to mark a comeback.
“I hope that by the time of French Open, by the end of May, Europe will get to a better position than now,” he stated.
Interestingly, the last of Leander Paes’ 18 Grand Slam victories came at the Roland Garros in 2016.