Leander Paes has announced that he will be hanging up his tennis racquet at the end of this year. I have now been writing sports articles for The Teenager Today for more than thirty-six years but somehow Leander Adrian Paes inadvertently never found a place in my writing. The reason, perhaps, is twofold; first, in my younger days, the pair of Premjit Lal and Jaideep Mukherjea and later the Amritraj brothers — Anand and Vijay — were the more talked of players when the Davis Cup matches were played, secondly, when the Grand Slam events were conducted, it was the single players who stole the limelight. However, as the age-old proverb goes, it is ‘Better late than never’.
An individual who over three decades won 18 Grand Slam titles, 44 Davis Cup doubles matches and a bronze medal in the singles event at the Olympic Games and that too some of them after overcoming a brain tumour operation must definitely rank not only among the greatest tennis doubles players but also a ‘lion hearted’ fighter. In fact, that is exactly what the word Leander means – The Lion Hearted.
As a junior, Leander Paes came into limelight by winning the Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles but he achieved nothing noteworthy in the singles of the Grand Slam events in the men’s events though he did win some important singles matches in the Davis Cup matches. Leander, however, won two ATP singles titles in his career, the better known being the one where he beat Pete Sampras in the finals in straight sets.
The pair of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi created a furore when in 1999, they entered the finals of all the four Grand Slam events and won two of them, consequently securing the top doubles ATP ranking from where Leader has slipped out of the top 100 today. The year 1999 also saw Leander win the Wimbledon mixed doubles titles in partnership with Lisa Raymond, to achieve a rare double of doubles.
After a record 24 consecutive doubles victories in the Davis Cup, for some undisclosed reason, the pair of Leander and Mahesh fell apart. However, Leander continued to hit the headlines time and again with different partners. Unique as it may appear, during his career, Leander has partnered more than 100 men in different doubles events and more than 25 ladies in the mixed double events. His eight men’s Grand Slam doubles titles and ten mixed doubles Grand Slam titles over a spread of three decades are a testimony to his endurance, fitness, consistency and adjustability as a doubles player. In fact, no other player in the history of the game, other than Rod Laver and Leander, has won Grand Slam titles over three decades.
In 2002, Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes paired to win the gold medal at the Asian Games. Having recovered from brain surgery, Leander led the Indian tennis team at the Doha Asian Games in 2006 and won a gold medal in the men’s doubles with Bhupathi and a mixed doubles gold medal with Sania Mirza.