The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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I feel blessed to be in this position: Paes

Calcutta, Jan. 25: It’s a party Martina Navratilova will want all her fans to be present for. Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena could, after all, see tennis history being written twice over by the living legend, come Sunday morning.

But it’s a party she couldn’t have arranged without considerable help from someone very close to our heart — the redoubtable Leander Adrian Paes.

The Indian maestro has experienced quite a few special moments in his illustrious career. The thrill of playing a Grand Slam final alongside Navratilova will surely rank up there with the very best.

“I feel blessed to be in this position… to try and help Martina create history,” Paes told The Telegraph this morning shortly after a workout with the naturalised American. The wild cards take on the unseeded pair of Todd Woodbridge of Australia and Eleni Daniilidou of Greece in the final on Sunday.

The only Grand Slam trophy missing from Navratilova’s collection is an Australian Open mixed doubles crown. If she and Paes can pull off two sets tomorrow, it will give her a unique ‘Slam’ which even a Serena Williams will find hard to repeat.

No tennis player on Planet Earth has come close to winning the singles, doubles and mixed titles at all four Grand Slam events. And this amazing lady has 54 of them in all.

She will also become the oldest Grand Slam titlist at 46, if a victory materialises against the Aussie-Greek duo.

“It’s a real treat to be playing with her… she’s such a legend, I remember growing up watching her compile all those victories and titles. This is another remarkable career highlight which I would cherish as long as I live,” said Paes, all of 17 years younger than his partner.

They haven’t dropped a set yet in four matches, having conquered third seeds Mark Knowles -Elena Likhovtseva, fifth seeds Kevin Ullyett-Daniela Hantuchova and former doubles partner, India’s Mahesh Bhupathi and Iroda Tulyaganova on the way.

“We have been on the same wave-length, that’s why we have been enjoying our tennis and winning so comfortably,” remarked the Indian, adding that the clash with Bhupathi was routine.

Paes, who paired with Navratilova for the first time at the 2002 US Open (lost in the second round after scalping the top seeds), was floored by the nine-time Wimbledon champion’s game-reading ability.

“You can literally see her vast knowledge of the game, she knows exactly where to play the ball and where it will come back too.”

He won’t go into a prediction for tomorrow’s final, but the subtle confidence in his tone couldn’t be missed.

“We know how they play and have done our homework. Let’s see how things unfold,” observed Paes.

The positive energy both of them radiate on court has destroyed many a big name in the last 10 days.

It remains to be seen if Woodbridge — a doubles great in his own right — and his young Greek partner can play spoilsport for the legend’s party Down Under.

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