Enjoying every moment of life

Leander credits his wife Rhea as his spiritual guru, and daughter Aiyana as an incredible source of inspiration. "I had explored Sudarshan kriya through a scientific approach and now with Rhea's experience with the `Art of Living', she has taken me through the spiritual side of it. All this has definitely reflected in my life over the last few years, making my game, my life, my dreams and everything that I put my heart and mind to, more successful than ever", he said.-PTI

Leander Paes is at peace with himself, as his heart is filled with happiness. He had learnt in 2003, while winning the Australian Open and Wimbledon mixed doubles titles with Martina Navratilova, that age was just a number, and that it was one’s attitude that defined success. Navratilova was 46 then. Over to Kamesh Srinivasan.

Leander credits

A small paunch is evident, but this has not stood in the way of Leander Paes enjoying rich success on the tennis courts around the world in recent times. His lightning speed at the net and quicksilver hands seem to be giving him an edge in the doubles world — in which court coverage is shared by two pairs of legs — making sure that the years do not weigh heavily like lead.You should hear the reason for Leander’s success from Cara Black, who helped him win his 11th Grand Slam title, and fifth mixed doubles crown, in Melbourne.

“One of the greatest things about Leander is that he is so relaxed and easy going,” said Cara after the Australian Open triumph that also helped her complete a career Grand Slam.

Yes, Leander is at peace with himself, as his heart is filled with happiness. He had learnt in 2003, while winning the Australian Open and Wimbledon mixed doubles titles with Martina Navratilova, that age was just a number, and that it was one’s attitude that defined success. Navratilova was 46 then.

Blessed with a happy family, the doting father of a daughter, Aiyana, Leander has realised the joys of life, which includes enjoying himself thoroughly on court. He may be a professional tennis player earning millions from the game, but Leander also has fun on court while facing the challenges there.

His family keeps him motivated and life itself has taught him to enjoy every moment of existence. After the scare of the parasitic brain infection, neurocysticercosis, in 2003, Leander became a changed man. For him, life was not something to be tired about. It was too precious. The idea was to make the best out of it.

“To me, the high standard of excellence, the high standard of giving your best, that is what motivates me”, he said. Winning and losing do not matter any more. There is less pressure when you are not worried about the result, but only focussed on the process. The hunger to succeed is very much there, burning intensely, but it does not consume the personality. It helps him play his best, against much younger opposition.

He has had a running battle with Mahesh Bhupathi over the years, though the two have kept everything aside and played their hearts out in so many Davis Cup matches, apart from the Asian Games and the Olympics. That is another Leander trait. He respects his partner on court.

“He makes you feel like gold. You really feel great out there,” said Cara, as she praised Leander heartily.

Mutual respect — he commands tremendous respect himself — the willingness to pull together when the chips are down and waiting for the moment to seize the opportunity with enthusiasm are Leander’s hallmarks on court.

The opponents cannot relax even when the flow is in their favour, for Leander and partner are always difficult to write-off at any stage of the match.

“Our opponents have to play exceptional tennis through the whole match to win,” said Leander. This emphasises his fearless approach. The prospect of failure does not intimidate him. He does not beat himself, and only consistent quality play from across the net can beat him.

Sharp instincts and the ability to come up with the right shot at the right time are only secondary to Leander, when compared with his strong attitude. There is always room for a fight with no question of ever giving up.

After losing successive mixed doubles finals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year, Leander promised Cara that they would win the Australian Open. He kept his promise, though he could have been happy and contented about winning the men’s doubles titles at the French and the U.S. Opens in 2009.

That is Leander for you. He thinks about his partner once there is a strong bond of trust. You have to just win his trust, and leave the rest to him. He makes winning look easy.

The recent Australian Open trophy does mean a lot to him. Winning 11 Grand Slam titles from 21 finals has indeed been an exhilarating experience. “The beauty of continuously putting the hard work, day in and day out, in the gym or on the track, when you are not feeling great, these are the things you play for,” he said.

The game has taught him a lot over the years, and Leander treats success and failure with equanimity.

“I am a student of life. I am a student of tennis. It keeps teaching me about getting better. If Roger Federer can keep improving, I think all of us can still improve, as well,” he remarked.

He is a great ambassador and made a spontaneous observation, about India and Australia having the same day as Republic Day, while delivering his victory speech in Melbourne. Leander wanted sport to serve as a bridge over simmering troubles.

For sure, Leander Paes is a joy to watch, and a pleasure to hear. He credits his wife Rhea as his spiritual guru, and daughter Aiyana as an incredible source of inspiration.

“I had explored Sudarshan kriya through a scientific approach and now with Rhea’s experience with the ‘Art of Living’, she has taken me through the spiritual side of it. All this has definitely reflected in my life over the last few years, making my game, my life, my dreams and everything that I put my heart and mind to, more successful than ever,” he said.

Though the talk in recent times may have been pretty strong about Leander getting into the world of films, his other fancies are to race in F1, trek in the Himalayas, and explore India on a bike.

The mantra is simple, enjoy every moment, and every act.

* * * Timeline 1973: Born on June 17, in Kolkata.

1990: Won the Wimbledon junior singles title, and was ranked world No.1 junior. Made the final of the Australian Open junior event. Made his Davis Cup debut in doubles with Zeeshan Ali, against Japan in Chandigarh.

1991: Won the U.S. Open junior singles title.

1992: Made Olympics debut, and reached the doubles quarterfinals with Ramesh Krishnan.

1993: Made the U.S. Open men’s doubles semifinals with Sebastien Lareau. Helped India reach the Davis Cup semifinals.

1994: Won the men’s doubles gold with Gaurav Natekar in the Asian Games in Hiroshima.

1996: Won the singles bronze medal at the Atlanta Olympics.

1997: Won his maiden ATP Tour doubles title, with Mahesh Bhupathi, in April in Chennai. Was conferred the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award.

1998: August 24, ranked a career high No.73 in singles. Beat Pete Sampras in New Haven. Won his only singles title on the ATP Tour at Newport.

1999: June 21, became World No.1 in doubles. Won the first Grand Slam doubles title, at the French Open with Mahesh Bhupathi. Won both men’s doubles (with Mahesh) and mixed doubles (with Lisa Raymond) titles at Wimbledon. Made the doubles finals of the Australian Open and the U.S. Open as well, with Mahesh.

2000: Carried the National flag at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics, lost in the doubles second round with Mahesh.

2001: Conferred the Padma Shri. Won the French Open doubles with Mahesh.

2002: Won the Asian Games gold with Mahesh in Busan. Won mixed doubles bronze with Sania Mirza.

2003: Won the Australian Open and Wimbledon mixed doubles titles with Martina Navratilova. Was affected by a parasitic brain infection, neurocysticercosis.

2004: Lost the play-off for the third place in the Athens Olympics doubles with Mahesh Bhupathi against Mario Ancic and Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia.

2006: Won the men’s doubles with Mahesh and the mixed doubles gold with Sania Mirza in the Doha Asian Games. Won the U.S. Open doubles title with Czech Martin Damm.

2008: Lost the Beijing Olympics doubles quarterfinals with Mahesh against the eventual champions Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland. Won the U.S. Open mixed doubles title with Cara Black.

2009: Won the French Open and the U.S. Open men’s doubles titles with Czech Lukas Dlouhy. Lost the Wimbledon and the U.S. Open mixed doubles finals with Cara Black.

2010: Won the Australian Open mixed doubles with Cara Black.