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It Paes to be Leander

Last updated on: December 17, 2009 16:47 IST

Few can handle the media as well as Leander Paes

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Bikash Mohapatra

Few Indian players can handle the media as well as Leander Paes does.

The tennis star not only anticipates the questions well but also has readymade answers, or shall we say cleverly crafted responses that only imply what he intends to say -- no scope of reading between the lines here -- and also serves the purpose of the person asking the question, thereby creating a win-win situation.

Also unique is the manner in which he meets (and greets) each and every media person. 

At the inaugural Sports Illustrated India Sportsperson of the Year award in Mumbai on Wednesday, where he received the editor's award, Leander greeted a colleague as if he was well-acquainted with him.

The positive vibes left the colleague a tad surprised. It was probably his first face-to-face encounter with Leander and he hardly expected such a warm response -- and credit to him for seizing the opportunity to talk to the player.

Another scribe, at the same function, was patient enough to wait till everyone else was done. She was probably a newcomer on the look-out for an exclusive.

Leander noticed this and retorted (with a smile, of course), "Why, you have different questions to ask? Not the usual ones that everyone is asking."

The young lady later got her 'exclusive' opportunity a few minutes later, though, the player completing all his media obligations before obliging her request.

And that essentially is Leander for you. The way he interacts with the fourth estate is predictable for those who have interacted with him before but tends to surprise people who haven't.

What doesn't surprise at all are his answers. This occasion was no different.


Image: Leander Paes
Photographs: Reuters
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'2009 has been a fabulous year for me'

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Asked about India's entry into the Davis Cup World Group again, Leander began his verbal diplomacy.

"Getting in the top 16 in any competition is fantastic but in a sport like tennis, which played all over the world, it is very, very hard," he explained, before adding, "I would like to congratulate the boys for their  performance in South Africa.

"Especially Somdev, for coming back from two sets down and a break down in the third set to win the decisive match. Having been in that situation quite a few times I know how much mental and emotional strength it takes."

Leander, the hero of many of India's Davis Cup successes had a word of caution though.

"Playing Russia in the next round where it would be freezing won't be easy," he said. "They are a good side and have three-four players in the top-50."

Asked about his own form and his assessment of the year, Leander came up with a more satisfactory answer.

"2009 has been a fabulous year for me. Any year when you reach four Grand Slam finals, it is a lovely achievement," he said, before elaborating.

"I have always maintained that longevity and peak performance are the real test in any athlete's career.


Image: Leander Paes

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Paes eyes Commonwealth Games gold

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"And at this stage of my career, after 19 years of performing professionally, to win two majors in year again is just reward for the hard work and discipline."

The tennis player went on to explain what his expectations are in the coming year.

"In 2010, I am looking forward to doing well not only in the majors but also in the Commonwealth Games (New Delhi) and the Asian Games (Guangzhou).

In a long and glittering career, there are still a few things missing from his trophy cabinet, the most important being an Olympic gold medal in doubles.

Leander did win a memorable bronze in singles at Atlanta (1996) but considering his doubles' prowess (and achievements); he is yet to win an Olympic medal in the category.


Image: Leander Paes

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Paes looking forward to 2012 Olympics

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And, at 36, he is not getting any younger. Asked if he intends to play at the next Olympic Games in London, Leander nodded in agreement.

"Playing in London 2012 is definitely on the cards. I am looking forward to it," he replied in the affirmative.

But then negative statements and negative vibes are the last thing you can expect from Paes.


Image: Leander Paes

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