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Paes’ Houston hopes still alive

Calcutta: The clouds of uncertainty and high-voltage tension over Leander Paes’ brain lesion have blown away. Full-fledged treatment, based on a long drawn-out diagnosis which kept a country of one billion on tenterhooks for a full week, is underway. The Indian icon will still need weeks to get back on the tennis court but the million-dollar question has already started cropping up: when will the Olympic bronze-winner play his next competitive match'

“Given a choice, I would be out on the court right today at the Flushing Meadow… in fact I had tears in my eyes watching Pete Sampras bidding adieu last night from Arthur Ashe Stadium. But, then, one can’t live in paradise,” an emotional Paes told The Telegraph from his M.D. Anderson Cancer Centre suite on Tuesday morning (Orlando time).

“Pete (Sampras) has been such a legend, a great athlete and a great human being who I have always admired… and you know I have never lost to such a player. We met each other twice in doubles and once in singles, I have come out on top everytime… that makes me feel even more nostalgic,” Paes recalled.

From what the doctors have assessed at this stage, Paes will have to be in hospital for about two more weeks followed by a two-week observation period when he will be based in his apartment in Orlando. Then an MRI scan will be repeated to check whether the four-millimetre inflammation had subsided.

“All that will take us almost into October, then I’ll start training and I have to see when I can get back to competitive tennis. One thing’s sure, I’m not going to get back unless I am in tiptop shape,” Paes announced softly but firmly.

Playing the year-ending Masters Doubles Championship, which will be held concurrently with the singles event in Houston in November, is a possibility. He and Czech partner David Rikl have all but qualified for the premier eight-team meet.

“Even if I don’t play any more tournament this year, I think we will still make the top eight… I would like to have a shot there, but it’s a long way off yet,” Paes said.

His aim, at this moment, is to get well and be ready for the start of the 2004 season. “That’s the primary target, but if I can get any tennis before the season gets over, well and good…”

And what is the one important lesson he has learnt from this ordeal by fire' “All this while, I have been regularly monitoring my body except the skull part… now, I have to add an MRI scan of the skull on my list of musts when I go for the routine check-ups,” Paes signed off.

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