Leander Paes has been such a regular fixture on the ATP Tour for almost three decades now that it is almost certain that he will be on court in 2020 as well.
The 46-year-old started his Major career with the boys singles at the Australian Open back in 1989, reaching the final the next year and winning the junior titles at Wimbledon and US Open in 1991 before turning pro. In the 28 years since, he has won 18 Grand Slam doubles titles and sealed his status as a tennis great.
In his long pro career, he has played alongside many greats of the game and in his own words, has seen about 12 generations of tennis players. His longevity, almost the stuff of legend now, is reminiscent of Martina Navratilova, with whom he formed a successful mixed doubles pair.
The 18-time Grand Slam champion credited his former partner Martina Navratilova, who herself played till – and won a Grand Slam – at 49 for the lessons in fitness.
“To have played with Navratilova over three years and to be that close to her over time has helped me in my career, that at 46 I can keep reinventing myself in my training methods, my diet and my fitness. In any professional sport, Martina Navratilova has taught us how physical fitness is a prerequisite,” said during the Media Launch of the Australian Open 2020 in Mumbai on Monday.
“For me, Martina Navratilova epitomises the perseverance and the reinvention that an athlete can go through. As a woman in her time, in the 70s and the 80s, where fitness and diet and gym work was not really prevalent, she took it to a new level, she took fitness - as an athlete to levels in tennis that were then seen all across sports, which is quite amazing,” he added.
However, Paes has not yet decided if he will be going back to Melbourne in 2020, because he is still assessing his plans for the upcoming season.
“I will find out in the next couple of days as to what my goals for 2020 are. For me [trophies] are what I play for, they are memories. Each and every one of my 26 finals, 18 Grand Slams, Olympic medal. Medals and trophies are memories that never go. For me, rewriting the history books is what I have lived for,” Paes said during the Media Launch of the Australian Open 2020 in Mumbai on Monday.
“I have had a very blessed career, so if I have another year in it, get to play another Olympics, wonderful. If I don’t, still wonderful,” he added.
The year 2019 was not an especially good one for the Indian, who is currently ranked 91 in men’s doubles, when it comes to Majors. He made some deep runs on the ATP Tour but didn’t win a title.
He was the only Indian to progress behind the first round at the Australian Open (in mixed doubles) but since then has reached the second round only in the men’s doubles at Roland Garros. He didn’t play mixed doubles at the French or US Open either.
But considering 2020 is the all-important Olympics year, his goals for the next year include an elusive shot for playing the Games at 47. Paes, who won the bronze medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games, has the record for seven Olympic appearances for India and hopes he can make that eight. Of course, it is far from a certainty given the higher rankings of other Indian doubles players.
“As far as I am concerned, I was conceived at the Olympics in 1972, when my parents were there,” said Paes. “I was born for the Olympics. Every Sunday morning after the church, I used to polish my dad’s medal and everything I have dreamt for is to play for our flag and to play for our people so if I am ever called to play for our country, rest assured I will be there.”