India vs Pakistan: Paes happy and proud with Davis Cup return

Leander Paes, who returned to the Indian Davis Cup team after April 2018, said that it his job now to motivate the youngsters in the team against Pakistan.

The Indian Davis Cup team poses for the camera after a training session at New Delhi.   -  Kamesh Srinivasan

Leander Paes was happy to be competing in his 30th year, on Davis Cup duty, as the Indian team had a nice work out on Thursday afternoon at the DLTA Complex.

The 46-year-old Olympic bronze medallist and 18-time Grand Slam champion said that he was proud to have played the role of being in front and motivating the players to be prepared to compete in Islamabad, before the International Tennis Federation (ITF) shifted the tie to the neutral venue of Nur-Sultan in Kazakhstan.

Having played many memorable matches in Davis Cup, often winning both his singles and doubles rubbers over the years, Leander said that it was the right decision by the national federation not to have forfeited the tie when it was originally scheduled to be held in Islamabad, as it would have been a retrogade step for Indian tennis.

Many would have thought that Leander had played his last Davis Cup tie against China, when he got to the record of most doubles rubber wins, with Rohan Bopanna, in April last year. But, as destiny would have it, Bopanna is out with an injury while Leander is getting ready for another tie.

"It is not my job to decide whom we are playing and where we are playing. When it is Davis Cup, I am always ready. I am very happy and very proud of our team. We have got one of the best teams, and we will put our best foot forward," said Leander, after the work out, where he played doubles with Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan against Sriram Balaji and Saketh Myneni.

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Leander was equally in praise of captain Rohit Rajpal, coach Zeeshan Ali, manager Sunder Iyer and the AITA CEO Akhouri Bishwadeep, as they have "done some tremendous job to bring the whole team together".

Leander said that the big difference in temperature, as it would be minus 20 degree centigrade in Kazakhstan at this time of the year, would require the team to be adequately prepared, even though the tie would be played indoors on hard courts.

Leander did remember playing indoors in ice cold conditions, with golf gloves and many layers of clothing against China many years ago, but was confident that with ITF hosting the present tie, the air conditioners should be working fine in Nur-Sultan.

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In India’s last meeting against Pakistan, Leander had won the decisive fifth rubber, after enduring body cramps after two sets against Aqeel Khan.

"Came back from being down a break point at 2-3 to win that fifth set," recalled Leander about the tie in Mumbai in 2006.

"To me Davis Cup is a team event. If I am called, it is my responsibility to be ready to play," he stressed.

With everyone reporting for training, only Sumit Nagal was left to join the team. Captain Rohit Rajpal, busy with ensuring visa and other formalities and requirements for the team, said that Sumit would be joining team on Friday.