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I don’t feel old... Rio is a motivation: Paes

-‘There’s a lot of oomph about Virat’
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Leander Paes with the Padma Bhushan citation, in New Delhi, on Saturday

Calcutta: Leander Paes spoke to The Telegraph soon after being conferred the Padma Bhushan, in New Delhi, on Saturday.

Excerpts...

Q The Padma Shri in 2001 and, now, the Padma Bhushan... Were your emotions very different this time?

A Such awards are a recognition from the men and women of the country and are special. The emotions are substantially different from, say, winning a tournament... It’s not a reward for a week or a fortnight’s hard labour, but of years and years of sweat and tears. It’s a reward for striving towards a degree of excellence. Such awards motivate.

 

So, there’s the motivational element as well...

Yes... I’ll probably be able to convey exactly what I feel only after I’ve retired... When I put my feet up and reflect on the awards and the trophies.

Did the President, Pranab Mukherjee, and you talk in Bengali?

A couple of sentences... I said “nomoshkar” and the President responded warmly... There’s so much history associated with the Rashtrapati Bhavan and the Durbar Hall... Being honoured there is something to treasure.

Fourteen Grand Slams, two Padma awards... Today, who are you most grateful to?

The amazing support system that I have... My father Vece, who has been my mentor... Mothers Jennifer and Julie... Daughter Aiyana... Rick Leach, coach and best friend on the circuit for 19 years... Sanjay Singh, David Herman... Many more as well, people who’ve sacrificed time with their families to work with me. My achievements honour each one of them.

Sachin Tendulkar, a contemporary, retired six months ago. You’ll soon be 41... Well, what’s the future you’re looking at?

(Laughs) This is a naughty question! Look, I don’t feel old. I’ve achieved a career Grand Slam in the doubles and need to win the French to complete that in the mixed doubles as well. That’s definitely driving me. Then, I’d like to make my seventh appearance in an Olympics, in Rio. That’s a motivation. I don’t play a full calendar any more, but the quality of my tennis hasn’t suffered. Indeed, my last Grand Slam win (US Open doubles) wasn’t many months ago. I’d like to keep pushing the record books.

You turned pro in 1991... Twenty-three years is a long time on the circuit. How would you sum it up?

This journey has been an education and, along the way, I’ve learnt a lot from Martina Navratilova, Ivan Lendl and Leach. Regardless of age, I strive for excellence. I’m also aware that this journey has given me a certain lifestyle and opened up business opportunities.

You’ve again made yourself available for national duty, specifically the Davis Cup face-off against Serbia...

What I’ve said is that I won’t shy away from wearing the India colours. It’s for the selectors to take a call.

I’ve got to ask about the Indian Tennis Players Association (ITPA)... You’re a vice-president... What is the body doing?

Fact is I’ve attended only one meeting, in Bangalore, a year ago. I haven’t heard a word since... I’m there for issues which affect players. As you know, I do stand up for what is right.

Roger Federer’s No.4 in the rankings, but he’s still the most talked about player... Federer's 17th and last Grand Slam win was at Wimbledon two years ago. Will that tally go up?

Federer’s amazing. His mind and technique are phenomenal, but people did have questions about his body. Did he, at 32, have the resolve to put in the hard yards? This year, he’s worked on his fitness and, so, his recovery from a five-setter against one of the big guns may not take that long. However, to win another Grand Slam, he’ll have to beat three-four of the top guys. It’s going to be tough, but Federer could win at Wimbledon or at the US Open... Credit to his family and his management team for giving him the space to focus on his game. He’s been given what he needed.

As an elder statesman of sport in India, what’s your take on the scandals which hit the IPL last year?

I don’t know enough about them, not as much as you do. I do watch the IPL occasionally, but for the entertainment only.

Is there somebody you root for?

I’ve been a fan of Dwayne Bravo, who is out with an injury... I also like the way (Mahendra Singh) Dhoni leads. He’s excellent as the Chennai Super Kings captain... Of late, I’ve begun to follow Virat Kohli with a considerable degree of interest.

Why?

(Tone of admiration) Well, there’s a lot of oomph about Virat and I love his style. He goes about his work with panache.

What do you look for the most in a sportsman?

Passion. Not only in sportsmen, but people across walks of life. Men and women with passion make a difference.

Success...

Doesn’t come easy... A lot goes into becoming successful and my friend Sachin will vouch for what I’m saying... You keep learning in your profession and you keep learning in life... The education never stops. Also, you have to treat moments of glory and setbacks, the two imposters, equally. That’s important.

The last one... Has anybody ever approached you to tank a match?

I guess the personality of the individual comes into play... No, I’ve never been approached. Even if somebody wanted to, he probably realised he wouldn’t get very far with me.