"I have never been so scared in my life."

When Leander Paes said that, you knew what he was talking about. As gutsy a champion as anybody in the entire history of Indian sport, Paes, who returned home from Orlando for rehab after a major illness-scare that was a greater threat than anything he has ever faced in his life, was talking about the few harrowing early days in the hospital bed when the diagnosis was still not complete.

"The first diagnosis was so scary. But finally I just served and volleyed past it," said the 1996 Olympic bronze medallist, speaking to The Sportstar from Mumbai last week.

"I have fought on courts. But this was my biggest battle," said Paes.

He said he was very keen to get back to competitive tennis at the World Doubles championship in Houston if only to stand by his longtime partner David Rikl. But it was far more realistic on his part to look at a January 2004 start.

"With all the medication, I have put on some weight and I will need at least three to four weeks to get back into shape," said Paes. "It is another challenge but I love challenges."