India’s enduring doubles specialist Leander Paes began his 25th year on the tennis circuit this week eyeing a seventh Olympics appearance in 2016, when he will be 43.
“It will be great to make it to Rio (de Janeiro) for one more. That is on my mind,” Paes said on the sidelines of his home event, the season-opening ATP Chennai Open.
“I am not sure whether I will get there. But I am fit and enjoying my game. There is nothing I need to prove but I am still motivated to play tennis for myself and my country.”
Paes, who made his Davis Cup debut in 1990 and began his professional career a year later, has won 14 Grand Slam titles — eight in men`s doubles and six in mixed doubles.
But the Kolkata-born 41-year-old, whose father Vece is an Olympic hockey international and mother Jennifer a former Indian basketball captain, is hungry for more.
“It will be great to add some more Grand Slam titles to the kitty,” said Paes, whose last major title came at the 2013 US Open when he partnered with Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic.
Paes goes into the 2015 season teaming up with South African Raven Klaasen, his 99th partner on the circuit.
In mixed doubles, he will share the stage with former women`s world number one Martina Hingis.
“Ninety-nine is a huge number, but I have shared a wonderful relationship with all my doubles partners,” he said. “All of them have been such an inspiration.” It was as a singles player that Paes made his mark when he defeated Andre Aggasi to win the bronze medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, a rare individual success for India after eight golds in field hockey.
Agassi, in his autobiography ‘Open’, described Paes as “a flying jumping bean, a bundle of hyperkinetic energy, with the tour’s quickest hands.”
But even as singles wins dried up, his partnership with Mahesh Bhupathi blossomed and the duo, nicknamed the ‘Indian Express’, won three Grand Slam titles and finished runners-up in two between 1999 and 2001.