Like Tendulkar, Paes an ace for two decades
Bikash Mohapatra salutes Leander Paes on completing two decades in tennis this year.
They are born within weeks of each other (in 1973).
And both are achievers in the own fields. However, when Sachin Tendulkar completed 20 years in international cricket last November, it was no less than a festive occasion.
Few are aware though of the fact that Leander Paes too completed two decades in tennis this year, two decades in which he represented the country in Davis Cup while achieving a lot of success on the professional tour as well.
Tennis aficionados are aware that the doubles specialist is around for a long time. But tell them it's been 20 long years and a surprised expression is writ large on their faces.
Considering cricket is a religion in this country, the coverage Tendulkar received back in November was very much on expected lines.
Also no need to reiterate the fact that the Master Blaster has almost every batting record to his name, save Sir Don Bradman's career average (99.94).
And it is also true that Tendulkar is getting better with age, like vintage wine -- his 200 not out against South Africa earlier in the year being yet another case in point.
Image: Leander Paes
12 major titles, most coming after he turned 30
However, Leander's case is no different. 12 major titles, most coming after he turned 30 and a clutch of wins in the Davis Cup, are a few pointers to his impeccable credentials.
His milestone though has practically gone unnoticed, save for a few ardent followers and the media at large.
It was in a Davis Cup Asia/Oceania tie against Japan at Chandigarh in 1990 that Leander made his Davis Cup debut, a winning one at that.
Partnering Zeeshan Ali in the doubles, the duo beat Shuzo Matsuoka and Shigeru Ota in five sets. Though India lost the tie (1-4), it was a memorable debut nonetheless.
And come this weekend, Leander's achievements over the last 20 years will be acknowledged in a special ceremony on the sidelines of the India versus Brazil Davis Cup World Group play-off tie.
Image: Leander Paes
'I train even harder these days'
It is clearly a case of too little, too late. Not that it matters much to the player concerned.
"I still remember my first match in Davis Cup at Jaipur. Zeeshan and I won the final set 18-16," reminisces Leander, before getting a tad nostalgic, err philosophical.
"The two decades of international tennis has brought a lot of happy memories," he says, adding, "I particularly remember my win against Goran Ivanisevic (Croatia) in Jaipur and a clinical performance against France in Frejus."
At 37, when most tennis players are either retired or contemplating the same, Leander believes in raising the bar further. And it is here again that Leander seems to be emulating Tendulkar.
"To be honest, I train even harder these days. I have to work twice as hard as earlier to get the same results,' he says.
Image: Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi
'Nothing better than representing the country'
Quiz him about the motivating factor and he is quick to point out that there is nothing better than representing the country.
"I will always choose an Olympic or Commonwealth Games medal over Grand Slam trophies," he says, adding, "My sense of responsibility to a billion people is more than my responsibility to just myself when I play on the Tour."
Retirement is therefore still not on the anvil as far as Leander is concerned. What worries him though is the depth in Indian tennis.
Just as after years of playing Tendulkar continues to be India's best hope, the same holds true for Leander as regards Indian tennis. And he doesn't hesitate to admit the reason.
"Ten years back we lacked the facilities," he reasons, adding, "all that we lack now is some professionalism."
Image: Paes draped in the tricolour