Leander Paes hints at retirement in 2017

"I play because I love the game, but there will come a point when the curtain comes down and before the curtain comes down, a thank you to you all," says Paes.

Leander Paes also made his intent clear that he wanted to mould a champion for the future.   -  S. R. Raghunathan

Leander Paes, on Sunday, hinted that he might call it quits in a few months. “At 43, I am blessed to be able to compete at this level. It is a dream and I am so blessed... I have a few people new on my team, who are going to help me on my last few months of my playing career,” he paused, before adding, “and my post tennis career”.

“I play for fun now. I play because I love the game but there will come a point when the curtain comes down and before the curtain comes down, a thank you to you all. It’s been a fun run. You have been awesome with me for 20 years,” he said, welling up with emotions as he uttered those words. He blinked a tear away, tapped the table and walked away.

At the press conference ahead of the Chennai Open, where he is partnering Brazilian Andre Sa in the doubles, the 18-time Grand Slam champion made his intent clear that he wanted to mould a champion for the future. “I think it is the time right now to transcend and do something bigger than just winning six times. I would love to create someone who is winning it for the first time and help him realise what it takes to win the first one.

“When he wins the first one, I will help him realise what it takes to win the next one to prove it was not a fluke... That’s the dream I have now, more than going out and playing an eighth Olympics or a 20th Grand Slam or winning a Chennai Open for the eighth or ninth time. They are just numbers now,” he said.

It was a day of retirement talks in Indian tennis.

Somdev Devvarman, who has been mentoring Prajnesh Gunneswaran in the tournament, officially announced his retirement on Sunday.

On Somdev’s imminent stint as a coach, Leander Paes said: “I am not sure what it is to be a coach alone. I have mentored a lot of young kids... For Somdev, I know he has not been playing for a long time now. It’s almost been two years that he has not really been playing and to see him fit again is great. Not quite sure what his aspirations are as a coach."

When asked about Somdev’s legacy, an unusually blunt Paes had the media staring at him in disbelief. “Legacy...(a long pause), legacy...(another long pause)... I think Somdev’s fitness was good, no? That’s something I thought he was very good now,” he finally mustered, before pausing to describe his legacy again. “I think he is the only Indian to get to the final of Chennai Open singles now. Grand Slams... Singles... Doubles..,” he was doing it again.

Leander Paes, meanwhile, revealed that he will continue to play with his Chennai Open partner Andre Sa in Auckland as well as the Australian Open. “God willing, we will have a few good results and keep our partnership growing and play for a few more months together, if not the whole year,” he said.

Talking about the pre-requisites he looks for in a partner, he said: “What I look for is someone who is hardworking, someone who communicates well. In terms of technique, I like a partner who has a big serve and a good backhand return. Andre is a friend of mine and I have known him for a long time, but any partnership needs a little bit of time to get into it."

Reflecting on the year 2016, the six-time Chennai Open doubles champion, said: “It was a really horrid year for me, and a lot of which I didn't speak about because of my daughter’s illness. But I still won a Grand Slam,” he said.

“I have been really looking forward to finding one thing that motivates me. I find that just winning Grand Slams, whether it is 18 or 19 or 20 or 21, they are all just numbers.

“I play to motivate the youngsters all around the world. I live my life to show every human being on the planet regardless of age that you can be the best you can be. That’s what I play for."

Leander Paes, however, played it safe on Mahesh Bhupathi’s appointment as Davis Cup captain after the New Zealand tie. “We have got one more tie with Anand, but a big congratulations to Mahesh for getting into captaincy. With the credentials that he has, he deserves his spot there. In doubles, he brings in a lot in terms of communication, in terms of technical skills. Mahesh and myself have played together for so many years. We have won a few of these matches here (in Chennai). So I think he will add a lot to the doubles,” he said.