“I’m a shooting star, leaping through the sky. Like a tiger defying the laws of gravity. I’m a racing car, passing by.”

These are the lyrics of a popular song by legendary rock band Queen called “Don’t stop me now”. This could well be the anthem for Leander Paes’s tennis career as he enters his 28th year on the ATP Circuit.

At 45 years of age, the doubles world No 63 is the oldest active player on the ATP Tour. But he does not have any plans of stopping and is actually training extra hard to make sure 2019 is a successful year for him.

“I am 45 years old but I just love the effort and the magic that goes into playing tennis and I am sure if I keep up the hard work like this, matches like this are going to go in my favour over the year,” a cheery Paes told reporters after his nail-biting quarter-final loss to doubles top seeds Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan at the Tata Open Maharashtra on Thursday.

“I am really happy with the off-season training I have done. I have gotten faster, stronger and I feel really good with my game and I won’t be surprised if I have a really good year,” he added.

Although he and his Mexican partner Miguel Angel Reyes-Varela lost the match after winning the first set and holding six match points in the Super Tiebreak, the Indian was optimistic about the result. And it has a lot to do with the healthy and hungry version of Paes on court, with his vintage quick reflexes, soft hands and deft touch at the net that has won many a trophies and medals in the past.

“I do a lot of hard training to keep this body hard and fresh. You are seeing a much faster, younger, quicker, fresher Leander on court. I am hungry again, I am hungry to win, I want the ball on my racquet… I feel like the more court I cover, the more chances I have to win.

“That being said, I have to make sure that my legs are fast and that endurance and that speed is there…. my serve has got a few more clicks per hour than it had last year, the mind is clean and fresh and when the ball is travelling through 200 miles an hour I am on it,” he added.

But as a team, the Indo-Mexican pair have a lot of introspection to do ahead of the Australian Open.

“I think that this match is going to help a lot for Varela and our team to do better. Because when you learn from matches like this, then you go into a Grand Slam, which is in ten days’ time, actually playing big points well. When you have six match points and you don’t win a match, trust me it hurts,” he admitted.

Playing for fun, not targets

What keeps Leander Paes ticking is a redundant question by now. But how about what he is yet to achieve on the tennis court? The 45-year-old usually has an answer for every question, but not this one.

“For the last three years, I have asked my team to come with a target.. a goal of what else is there to achieve. They haven’t come up with anything. There’s nothing else that’s not been won.

“I am just playing because I have a lot of fun. I enjoy my tennis, I love bringing happiness to people. And if I can win some more matches, if I can win another Grand Slam, another few matches in the Davis Cup or the Olympics so be it. But there is nothing else to achieve, there is nothing to sit here, prove to myself, let alone to anyone else. I just play because I have fun,” he insisted when asked about the goals for 2019.

Paes’ idea of fun is being out on the tennis courts, no matter where they may be: Grand Slam or Challenger. In the last couple of years, the 18-time Major champion (eight men’s doubles and 10 mixed doubles) has played a lot more on the ATP Challenger circuit with a variety of partners.

“Physically, even at 45, the oldest player on tour, I am still dominating the court and that is the fun part for me, to go out there and continue running hard and do some damage on the court,” he said.

But this doesn’t mean that he does not rue missing out on India’s Davis Cup squad for next month’s tie against Italy, which will be played on grass. Paes broke a long-standing record when he won his 43rd match for India at the Davis Cup last year, and there seemed an unwritten announcement that the record would be his last match for India.

“Man I got the Davis Cup world record, what disappointment is that?” he laughed when asked about the selection. But on more serious note added that it was no secret about what is going on in the Davis Cup squad, hinting at external reasons his exclusion.

“I mean Calcutta, grass...not too bad on grass am I? Would be fun to play,” he concluded with another laugh.

But playing for India or not, playing on the Centre Court or not, playing in the bigger tournaments or not, one thing is certain: Paes is unstoppable as, to quote Freddie Mercury, “he is having a good time, he is having a ball.”