Calcutta: It was at this time last year that Leander Paes was in the midst of his most serious form-related crisis. It lasted almost the whole of 2002 as he struggled to find a suitable partner after the break-up with Mahesh Bhupathi.
Then came David Rikl and all that changed. Three months into the new season, the smile is back on Paes’ face following a string of impressive results with the experienced Czech.
Quarter finals at the Australian Open, semis at Indian Wells Masters Series, titles at Dubai Open and Miami Masters Series have sent Paes and Rikl shooting to No. 2 on the current ATP list (they are a point clear of Bryan twins Bob and Mike, and 110 points adrift of Mark Knowles and Daniel Nestor).
“We still have a long way to catch up with Knowles and Nestor but we are aiming for the top spot by the end of the year,” Paes said Tuesday. He is gunning for the No. 1 slot in the individual doubles ranking too. Right now, Paes if No. 13 — having finished 2002 at 33 — and Rikl No. 10.
“We have been playing some great tennis together but the results have come a lot faster than I expected,” Paes admitted.
What’s helping them gel as a team' “He is very easy to get along with and there are no ego problems involved. We really enjoy playing with each other.” Paes said. “We are both good thinkers of the game and learn very fast. That’s perhaps another reason why we have been winning so many close matches.”
The Czech Republic factor seems to be clicking too. “I had this great run with Martina (Navratilova) at the Australian Open. And now I have struck a good partnership with David.”
The claycourt season is up next and Paes and Rikl will have to chalk up a different strategy. “We have had good results with other partners on clay but this is the first time the two of us will be playing together on this surface. So we have to make adequate preparations,” said Paes.