Leander Paes on his 1996 Atlanta Olympics bronze: Tears of triumph and pain

My aggressive tennis mounted the pressure on Fernando Meligeni, and when his final passing shot down match point sailed over my head and beyond the baseline, my hands went up in the air.

Leander exults after winning his quarterfinal match against Renzo Furlan in Atlanta.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

“Tough luck, Lee. Tough draw...” Jaidip Mukerjea, our non-playing captain, said soon after the draw was released before the opening ceremony of the Atlanta Games. I was to play Pete Sampras, who by then was pretty much the world No. 1!

Back in my head, I knew something magical was waiting to happen.

The next morning, we found out that Richey Reneberg was replacing Sampras, who had withdrawn.

Back then, Richey was among the top 20 in singles. I knew it was going to be a tough match. I lost the first set, but won the second, and after running him around for two sets, in the third set, when I got up for a break, Richey retired from exhaustion!

In the second round, I played Nicolas Pereira of Venezuela, followed by Thomas Enqvist in the third round and Renzo Furlan in the quarterfinals.

Tokyo 2020: Gopichand won't travel with Indian team, gives available space to Santosa  

And there came Andre Agassi in the semifinals!

Even though we had a great fight, Andre’s backhand ruptured a few tendons in my right playing wrist. It made things difficult for me and Andre reached the final!

I had to face Fernando Meligeni from Brazil for the bronze.

After the game against Andre, I had my wrist wrapped in a solid cast for 24 hours to try and heal my injury as fast as I could.

On the match-day morning, with the first touch of the ball, I realised I was in trouble. The pain that shot through my wrist into my arm was unbearable and I had to stop my warm-up after the first shot.

Tokyo Olympics: Physio Evangeline to accompany Sindhu  

I went back to the locker room seeking advice. The physio, Doug Spreen, warned me against playing with the injury. My dad said, “I know you are going to play. But all I am going to tell you is, do not injure yourself any further. You are already hurt, do not jeopardise your career...”

He advised me to assess the situation within the first few minutes of the match and not push beyond.

I knew the match was going to test my mental strength. In the first set, I was unable to have control in my playing wrist and lost. In the second set, I shifted gears and was able to bounce back and win, with two breaks.

Nobel laureate championing a cause in Olympics  

But in the third set, I found myself several break points down early. Fernando and I traded breaks and I protected my injured wrist by making shorter rallies.

My aggressive tennis mounted the pressure on Fernando, and when his final passing shot down match point sailed over my head and beyond the baseline, my hands went up in the air.

And the tears rolling down my cheek were not only for the triumph, but also for the pain I endured to win a medal for my country. It indeed was a proud moment!

As told to Shayan Acharya

For more updates, follow Sportstar on :