After 18 Grand Slams, Paes wants to learn from Rafa

Leander Paes, 43, whose longevity is a talked about tale in world tennis, said the line-up that Spain has presented for the Davis Cup tie against India is a must watch for every single budding athlete in the country.

Rafael Nadal Leander Paes Davis Cup

"I am lucky I got a chance to play doubles with him (in Paris Masters, 2015). It’s not just about how he plays tennis but the way he conducts himself. He is a great ambassador of the game."   -  Getty Images

Leander Paes, an 18-time Grand Slam doubles title winner, is the evergreen hero, especially in his favourite theatre of Davis Cup. Overcoming the odds and winning came naturally to him, over the years, against some of the best in business.

It may not be easy for the young Indian team to repeat the heroics of Paes against one of the toughest teams in the world, Spain, in the World Group play-off this week-end.

However, the 43-year-old Paes, the only tennis player in the world to have competed in seven successive Olympics, was as energetic and enthusiastic as ever in the training session, and said that the boys had nothing to lose and everything to gain from the experience

The 43-year-old, whose longevity is a talked about tale in world tennis, said the line-up that Spain has presented for the Davis Cup tie against India is a must watch for every single budding athlete in the country.

Spain has come with 14-time Grand Slam champion Nadal, World Number 13 David Ferrer, the marathon man of world tennis with 26 ATP singles titles, and French Open champion pair of Mark and Feliciano Lopez.

>READ: Nadal happy to be in India

“It’s a great showcase of tennis in India. If I were a 9-, 10-, 15-year old budding athlete, I would be packing the stadium, every single day. To come and watch a 14-time Grand Slam champion is unbelievable. For me even now, at this stage of my career, where I have played 30 years, you can come out and watch what Rafa does and learn so much,” Paes said.

“You can learn about the footwork, about the power, the generation of shots, the follow through, the swing, the rituals after the practice,” Paes said elaborating.

“Spanish team to me is one of the most professional teams. They fight together. I can’t say enough of respect I have for this team, starting with Rafa, one of the greatest. I am lucky I got a chance to play doubles with him (in Paris Masters, 2015). It’s not just about how he plays tennis but the way he conducts himself. He is a great ambassador of the game,” he said showering encomiums on the Spanish great.

Now this has come from a player, who has completed Career Slams in both men’s doubles and mixed doubles and has competed in a record seven Olympics with a singles bronze.

Paes, who is just one win shy of becoming the most successful doubles players in the history of Davis Cup, said India’s singles players — Saketh Myneni and Ramkumar Ramanathan — have a great opportunity to test themselves against the best in the world.

“You have nothing to lose. You have got us here (World Group Play-off stage) and we are proud of that. You have crossed this hurdle at the U. S. Open and now playing greats of the game. (You need to find) How does my game match up with them? You can watch how Ferrer moves on baseline, how Rafa plays that forehand. Most people worry about winning or losing, but at end of the day you need to keep improving,” Paes, tied with Italian great Nicola Pietrangeli on 42 doubles wins, said.

Pietrangeli also holds the most singles wins record in Davis Cup with 78 victories in 66 ties.

Paes said his job in this tie is to nurture the next generation and he indeed is “leading by example”.

“I was first on the court and last to leave. I hope kids on the team saw that. My volley is not bad but I am still working on that with my coach. The drill I generate, hitting down the line, backhand, cross-court. More than the talk, it’s action,” he stressed.

Paes also made it clear that the young players such as Sumit Nagal, need to learn and move to the next level fast.

“Can Sumit Nagal after winning junior Wimbledon, spend three days with me and absorb a few things. Before the next tie, he needs to improve. If we are working on the same thing in February too then...Davis Cup is a learning curve,” he said.

Asked who he would like to play doubles with — Nagal or Myneni — Paes said he won’t make any preferences.

“I am ready for anybody. I have played through nine generations of players and hence whoever they put me with, I am ready. It does not matter. My job is to nurture the young players,” he said.

Paes also made it clear that the next generation of players need to push him out of the team and earn their place.

“Let the juniors come up and surpass me, and say Lee you don’t have a spot, I will sit down. Part of my responsibility is to pass on the knowledge. I push them like hell. I am still beating them in games,” he said

Paes on evening tie

India’s non-playing captain Anand Amritraj might feel otherwise but Leander Paes has defended the decision to conduct this weekend’s Davis Cup tie against Spain under floodlights, saying that the home players “struggle in hot and humid conditions”.

Amritraj had castigated the DLTA’s decision to host matches in the evening, insisting that India had given up on home advantage by not competing against the superior Spaniards in the day time.

Paes argued that it’s only a myth that players with the calibre of Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer can be worn down by heat as they are the marathoners of world tennis who can slug it out for hours in tough conditions.

He also cited the example of the Korea tie in Chandigarh where both Indian and Korean players struggled to stand on their feet in torturous conditions.

“It’s a very smart (decision) to play in the evening. You always have to look after your own strengths. During the Korea tie, three of the four singles players were lying on the ground. Facts are facts. In the last two months, Saketh has played two five-setters and in both he had cramps,” Paes said after a practice session with the Indian team.

The 43-year-old said Myneni should be praised for managing to win that second rubber against Yong-Kyu Lim after a bout of severe body cramps.

“He did an amazing job in Chandigarh, to come out of that and win, very proud of the fact. But I have always believed you need to look after your players first. To Play Rafa and David Ferrer in middle of the day...they are known marathon men of tennis. The choice of playing under the lights in the evening is a very good choice,” he said.

India is fighting for a place in the elite World Group for the third consecutive year but is likely to remain in the Asia/Oceania zone since beating Spain is an uphill task.

Asked if it was disappointing to reach this stage but not go forward, Paes said India should celebrate success at Asia level.

“It’s perspective. You have to be realistic. You have to look at the extended group, whether singles or doubles. In singles we’ve always had one singles player. On the whole we have improved, we are best in Asia, have put a stamp on that. Korea are a tough bunch, Chinese Taipei. Asia is tough,” he said choosing not to be harsh on the singles players.