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Since 1st March, 1999
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ĎIt will take much more than a brain lesion to knock me downí
- Doctor against my playing in Houston: leander Paes

Calcutta: From the day Leander Paesí brain cyst was identified as a relatively Ďsafeí parasitic infection, he had been toying with the idea of playing at least the season-ending Houston Masters Doubles championship in the second week of November. But, as the articulate Olympic medallist himself acknowledges, you never stop learning in life.

And he has just learnt that playing the Houston meet is all but ruled out. Dr Bhim Singhal, the head of neurology department, Bombay Hospital, and the man who played a key role in Leanderís treatment, doesnít want the tennis star to take chances and rush his return.

Leander spoke to The Telegraph, on the way from the airport as well as at his residence, on the Houston issue and plans for 2004.

Following are excerpts

Q Itís been two months since a parasitic infection was diagnosed as the cause for your brain lesion. How do you assess your recovery'

A I had to go through a 10-day medication course, thereafter I was advised rest. I have resumed biking, swimming, running and light weight training, but I have no clue as to when I will be given the go-ahead to play tennis. Iíll have the next MRI done just after Diwali and that will tell us whether the swelling has been completely eradicated.

Youíve been travelling a lot these last few days after coming to India. Arenít you feeling the strain'

There was a lot of pending work which Iím trying to get out of the way. But, yes, I do need to slow down a bit as I realised three days ago when I had fever. Physically Iím not feeling much discomfort, but I can make out I am short of my normal energy level. I had put on 18 pounds but in the last few weeks have shed 12 of those. I am gradually getting back to peak fitness.

What is Dr Bhim Singhalís opinion on your return to tennis'

He feels itís still too early to get back on court. It may be just a parasitic infection, but the doctors donít want the brain to wobble. And if I am playing tennis, I will be lunging and diving around the court and the brain will wobble. Thatís why he feels I shouldnít take chances unless I am cent per cent cured.

That practically rules out your playing the Masters Doubles meet in Houston, doesnít it'

You can say that. Dr Singhal is against the idea, even if next weekís scan shows the swelling has subsided 100 per cent. But Iíll still wait for that report...

Not playing Houston will be quite a letdown, you were after all very keenÖ

Yeah, I was very eager to play in Houston. I think it was a fantastic achievement to qualify for the year-ending championships in our first year together and, that too, after missing the better part of the seasonís second half. It would have given a great boost to our confidence for next yearís campaign. More importantly, I have some responsibilities towards my partner David (Rikl). Playing the Masters is not only a matter of prestige, it also ensures all qualifiers a handsome prize-money. I wanted to play for David.

Is he aware thatís very unlikely to happen'

Yeah, he knows my exact position. Davidís been very supportive and extremely understanding. Heís told me not to hasten my return to tennis and do whateverís best for my health. I am really fortunate to have found a partner like him.

How confident are you of getting back to what you do best at the start of next season'

You all know Iím a fighter and it will take much more than a brain lesion to knock me down. Iím hoping to get back in action in January, but Iím keeping fingers crossed.

Will you and Rikl be playing together next year'

He was reluctant to continue tennis after this season, but now he has more or less changed his mind. Next year, mind you, will be different because itís the Olympic year. For example, I would be wanting to play with Mahesh (Bhupathi) for a few weeks before the Athens Games. David and I will have to sit down and chalk out our itinerary carefully.

Are you looking forward to the opening ceremony of the Afro-Asian Games'

Yes, indeed. Itís a prestigious event for India and you know how I feel when it comes to my country. I am not in a position to participate, but Iíll make sure Iím there to cheer the athletes and encourage all those who have put together this mega show. I have even convinced Mahima (Chaudhary) to do a dance sequence based on my favourite song ĎI love my IndiaÖí

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