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Peas going strong

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Forty and raring to go; that symbolises the ageless Indian wonder, Leander Paes. The legend keeps growing to unbelievable heights in a sport in which...

Forty and raring to go; that symbolises the ageless Indian wonder, Leander Paes. The legend keeps growing to unbelievable heights in a sport in which India is yet to produce a Grand Slam singles champion. By any yardstick, Paes is among the country’s best known ambassadors not only for his exploits on the circuit but also for his determination in Davis Cup matches.

By winning his eighth Grand Slam men's doubles title on Sunday while teaming up with Radek Stepanek of Czech Republic (their second major together), the Indian warhorse has proven himself. What was more significant was the manner in which they demolished the dreaded Bryan twins in the semifinals while effectively denying them the opportunity to achieve a calendar Grand Slam. It was the third US Open title for Paes, who played his 30th Grand Slam final. His earlier successes came in the company of Martin Damm (2006) and Lukas Dlouhy (2009).

So where do we place Paes when taken in the Indian context? Today, many will describe him as the finest of Indian players ever. The accomplishments of touché artistes Krishnans and Amritrajs have been good but they pale in comparison because they did not achieve any significant title successes. In addition to an amazing 14 Grand Slam doubles titles in a hugely productive two-decade career, Paes also has an Olympic singles bronze (Atlanta 1996) in his kitty. His track record in Davis Cup is the stuff of legends. He has already represented India in six Olympics, which is something unbelievably amazing for a sportsman of any era.

In his hour of glory, Paes has reminded lesser mortals that 40 is purely a number and that he is already looking to be on the Rio bandwagon! The doubles record is awesome because, unlike what most professionals tend to do (forging regular partnerships), Paes has established productive alliances with partners of various hues, including in mixed doubles where he has notched up six titles. It is perhaps because of his tremendous volleying abilities, a fine sense of adaptability and an innate combativeness that is cast in the mould of Jimmy Connors that he has moved on beyond a spate of controversies like the acrimonious run-up to the London Olympics.
It has been a magnificent journey for the Kolkata gladiator who, at 18 years, was the World No 1 in junior rankings after having annexed the Junior US Open and Wimbledon titles. Not a bad record for one who was diagnosed with a rare form of Neurocysticercosis and had to almost give up on the sport. His truck with the Grand Dame Martina Navratilova has been truly exuberant. It is poetic justice that if Navratilova is the oldest ever winner of a Grand Slam title (at 47), her partner from two mixed double successes should become the oldest male winner in the open era.
In his own words, "today I have the conviction to go for titles at 40 because I've seen her do it and believe it is possible,’’ best exemplifies his never-say-die spirit. Even as India celebrates the IOC decision to retain wrestling, Paes has provided the perfect icing on the cake.
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