| Leander Paes helps Martina Navratilova to her feet during the mixed doubles final in Melbourne on Sunday. Paes and Navratilova lost to Nenad Zimonjic and Elena Bovina. (AP)
Calcutta: Sunday’s rather anti-climactic result has failed to dent Leander Paes’ spirit. Rather, he will be leaving Melbourne a thoroughly satisfied man, counting his gains and looking ahead to the year in a positive frame of mind.
“I am a hundred per cent satisfied with my performance this fortnight… couldn’t have hoped for anything better,” Leander told The Telegraph on Sunday night from Melbourne well after he and Martina Navratilova had lost in straight sets to Nenad Zimonjic and Elena Bovina in the mixed doubles final.
“Firstly, I am very happy with the way my body stood up to the rigours of playing so many matches after five difficult months. Also, I have been hitting the ball very well… almost as if the timing never left me. That’s a blessing as far as I am concerned,” Leander observed.
The most important factor, he felt, was the return to winning ways. “We won three matches before losing today. That’s not a bad percentage for someone coming back from a serious illness. The winning feeling will help me in the many more tough weeks ahead of me,” quipped the six-time Grand Slam doubles champion.
Leander had no qualms admitting he played a poor match on Sunday. “Yeah, it was my worst tennis of the tournament… unfortunately, Martina didn’t have a good day either. But I don’t want to take anything away from Elena and Nenad, they can win a few more majors if they continue playing like this.”
The opening chapter of the Leander comeback story didn’t suggest rosy days ahead. He and Czech partner Tomas Cibulec had, after all, been dumped out of men’s doubles in the first round. “I wasn’t tearing my hair after the match as it was a close affair and could have gone our way… In fact, we were a break up in the final set but couldn’t capitalise,” the former doubles world No. 1 explained.
Happier days in men’s doubles may not be far away for Leander who rejoins forces with David Rikl from the Marseille tournament after the Davis Cup weekend. The left-handed Czech skipped the Australian Open to be with his wife and newly-born daughter.
“I’m looking forward to teaming up with David again, we had such a great 2003,” Leander said, adding that both had committed to playing with each other for the entire year including the three other Grand Slam events.
The focus, right now, is on the Davis Cup tie to be played in Invercargil. India’s new captain emplanes for Christchurch on Monday morning with more questions than answers as far as his team is concerned.
“It will be a rough initiation to captaincy… Rohan (Bopanna) and Prakash (Amritraj) will be missing, I am not into singles yet,” said a worried Leander. “I’ll have to go to the venue (Invercargil, near Christchurch) and see how the others are shaping up before deciding on whom to pick for singles.”
The young Karan Rastogi, who has been added to the squad on the strength of his boys’ semi-final showing in Melbourne, drew praise from the captain. “I liked his attitude. He’s ready to go out and put his heart on the line everyday. No doubt he’s a big talent.”
The Indians will be severely handicapped, that’s why Leander isn’t shutting out the option of himself playing at least one singles.