'This was my 23rd final in a Grand Slam that's what makes it special'
On Sunday, Leander Paes won the mixed doubles title at Wimbledon with his Zimbabwean partner Cara Black. This was Paes' fifth win at Wimbledon -- one men's doubles with countryman Mahesh Bhupathi, two other mixed doubles crowns, one with Lisa Raymond in 1999 and another with Martina Navratilova in 2003, and finally the tournament's junior title in 1990.
With the latest win, Paes has the record number of 12 Grand Slams to his credit -- six in men's doubles and six in mixed doubles.
The day after winning the latest Wimbledon title, Paes flew to New York City to play for his team -- Washington Kastles against the New York Sportimes in the World Team Tennis Championship, at the Sportimes Stadium on Randall's Island. Paes was accompanied with his wife Rhea Pillai and their four-year-old daughter Aiyana.
Aseem Chhabra talked with Paes, 37, just before he was about to start his match with his Washington Kastles team mate -- Australia's Rennae Stubbs.
Congratulations on the big win!
How does it feel with one more win at Wimbledon? You keep setting records.
I think that's what I keep trying for. People keep saying this is your 12th Grand Slam and your fifth Wimbledon title. For me I think the longevity is important.This was my 23rd final in a Grand Slam that's what makes it special. That's what I enjoy.
Image: Leander Paes
'My parents kept encouraging me to live my dream'
When you went in to play the final on Sunday, you were conscious of the fact that this was going to be one more achievement for you?
Yeah, the bar keeps rising. You do four Olympics, you want to do five. If you play in five you want to do six (he has represented India in the past five Olympic Games).
The beauty of this is the unconditional love I get from my parents. They kept encouraging me to live my dream -- whatever it is, whether it is tennis, or family or new ventures or the businesses I am involved in, or the orphanage (in Kolkata) that I look after. They have always encouraged and brought me up to believe that anything in life is possible with a little bit of perseverance and hard work.
What was last night like? Did you celebrate?
No, I knew I was playing today so it couldn't be a late night. So I had a little bit of celebration with my Indian friends. My first Davis Cup captain was there. He picked me to play Davis Cup when I was 15. We had to wake up at 6 in the morning to fly to New York.
You arrived in New York, two hours ago, and you are fine and playing? Of course this tournament is of a different level.
You know the level is pretty high, because a lot of these players played at Wimbledon recently. The physical demand is less because we play shorter games here. But the intensity of it is still there. It's a team atmosphere, which makes it more relaxed.
For me I love my tennis, whether it is hitting the ball with my little girl or competing here the day after I won a Grand Slam title and after a long flight.
Image: Leander Paes with Cara Black
'I modify my training every six months'
Why do you play in this type of a tournament?
Because of my respect for Billy Jean King (she was the co-founder of WTT). I think she epitomises what an athlete should be. When Billy first asked me to play in this tournament, I was a bit hesitant, because of the demands of the season. Especially after Wimbledon and the whole European tour, I generally used to like to take a break at this time of the year. She asked me last year and I played for Washington. Mark Ein (the team's owner) is a friend, confidante and great boss.
You turned 37 recently, so happy birthday
Where do you get the energy to keep playing? A lot of players retire by this age, but you seem to be at the peak of your career.
There are two reasons. One I think it comes from within (he points to his heart). And the second I keep raising the bar for myself. And it not just about the quality of tennis I play, but also the standard with which one conducts oneself, or how one does business. You put the Leander brand or name on it and people expect something.
But physically how are you managing now, as compared to when you were in your late teens?
Err... it was easier in my teens (he laughs). When I was young I could train for an hour and see the results. Now I have to train for three times that amount of time. Also for me age is just a number as long as you have a passion for life.
I modify my training every six months. I keep things that are working and change those that are not. So right now I am doing a lot into pilates, yoga and dance.
What kind of dance?
I do freestyle, street tap dancing. I am taking lessons for that. I find going to the gym and lifting weights really boring.
Image: Leander Paes
'The new rules have helped elongate my career'
Do you play singles at all now or just doubles?
I practice singles. It is part of my training. If they ask me to play singles in Davis Cup, I can. But I find doubles easier.
Well, it is easy for you because you have the talent.
The reason I said that was because my lifestyle is conducive to being a professional athlete. It's very clean and focused. I modify my lifestyle, keep evolving and changing every six months. So having been in it for 23 years, you keep learning new tricks. The game changes, the training methods change, the research has changed. The new rules have helped elongate my career.
The question I was asking earlier, is there less demand on your body since you play doubles?
Yes, it is much less than when I used to play in singles.
So where do you go from here?
Tonight New York, then DC, St Louis, Boston, and then later back here in New York on July 15th to play here again (when Serena Williams will also join the Washington team).
Image: Leander Paes
'Tennis is growing a lot in India'
What about the US Open and when do you go to India?
I go to India after team tennis. I get two weeks break in between. And then back for the US Open.
What about Davis Cup?
In September we play against Brazil in Chennai. It will be on hard courts.
What is the state of tennis in India right now?
It is growing a lot. We have definitely cemented the position of number two sporting event after cricket. Cricket is more like a religion in India and I don't think any sport can take over that. But in the last two decades the numbers of kids who have been playing tennis -- and that is my benchmark, and the number of eyes that view tennis in India, has grown hundred fold.
A lot of kids from India are coming to Florida and Spain to train. So parents are actually looking at tennis as a real investment for the child's life, as a career choice.
Image: Leander Paes