LEANDER PAES

Bronze: Tennis, men’s singles; Atlanta 1996.

Leander Paes... Bronze in Tennis, men’s singles; Atlanta 1996.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

He may never have been among the world’s top singles players, but when Leander Paes plays for India, he becomes an entirely different beast, as his many stupendous victories against stronger players in the Davis Cup would testify. So, his bronze medal at the 1996 Olympics should not be seen as a surprise, though he was ranked World No. 127 at the time and flew into Atlanta as a wild card.

It was a stunning performance nevertheless by the brave heart from Kolkata, as he overcame quality opposition that included the No. 3 seed Thomas Enqvist of Sweden in the third round. After beating the No. 14 seed Renzo Furlan of Italy in the quarterfinals, Leander took on the top seed and local hero, Andre Agassi of the United States, in the semi-finals.

He fought hard, took the first set into the tiebreak, but lost. In the bronze medal match against Fernando Meligeni of Brazil, Leander bounced back after dropping the first set to emerge victor.

Leander thus emulated his father, who was part of the bronze-medal winning Indian hockey team in the 1972 Olympics in Munich. It was India’s first individual medal at the Olympics since 1952. It was also the first medal for India since the Moscow Olympics of 1980.