The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The ‘real’ homecoming for Leander Paes
- 'I already have an Olympic bronze but would like to go one better in Athens'

Calcutta: His first homecoming, after a potentially career-threatening brain lesion, was in Mumbai just over three weeks ago. The ‘real’ one happened on a sunny Wednesday, as the morning flight from Mumbai landed at the Dum Dum airport shortly after 10 o’clock. Leander Paes had arrived at his birthplace.

This was a far cry from another bright October day seven years ago when the tennis icon had touched base with an Olympic medal draped around his neck. The euphoria over his rare acheievement in Atlanta was in stark contrast to the generally sombre mood following the brain ailment scare. And yet, the circumstances surrounding his arrival looked strikingly similar.

It was totally bereft of the madness generally associated with the arrival of a Sourav Ganguly, or any India cricketer for that matter. The odd autograph-hunter did put in a request as he walked out of the arrival area, a handful of acquaintances greeted him warmly and then there was actress Moon Moon Sen giving him a big hug.

Not that Leander had yearned for any mega reception. In any case, he had his hands full tackling the print and electronic media — first at the airport, where he fielded a series of questions with characteristic fluidity and finesse before obliging cameramen at the VIP exit, and then at his Beckbagan home where he was forced to a couple of sessions with photojournalists.

“I may have shifted base to Mumbai of late, but Calcutta will always hold a special place in my heart,” said Leander, looking a bit under the weather but showing no signs of the prolonged treatment he underwent at Orlando’s M.D. Anderson Cancer Centre.

“It has been a very trying two months… the first diagnosis had shaken my world, I am very blessed to have a second lease of life,” said Leander. “The desire to be back on court is driven by two strong motivations — I’m close to fulfilling a childhood ambition of competing in four Olympics and also, am just four wins short of becoming the second-most successful Davis Cupper from India.”

The Olympics is something he is really looking forward to. “I already have a bronze medal, but I would like to go one better in Athens… be it in singles, men’s or mixed doubles,” the 30-year-old doubles ace remarked.

As for Athens preparations, Leander said he would ideally like to tune up with Mahesh Bhupathi for a few weeks preceding the Games. “I would definitely want to practise with him adequately before the Olympics, but we have to see how we can adjust our schedules.”

With a lot of spare time in hand after being discharged from the Orlando Hospital, did he utilise it for any other constructive activity'

“I did get the time to pursue some other goals, like writing for example… I tried to pen down my thoughts and the lessons I learnt during my illness. Maybe, one day I’ll be writing a memoir,” quipped Leander.

Mother Teresa’s beatification cropped into the frame, quite inevitably. “It’s very well deserved. Of course, to those of us who have had the fortune of coming into direct contact with the Mother, there was never any doubt that she was a saint.”

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