Experts say that the backhand is the most undervalued stroke in tennis. Ask Leander Paes, and he would tell you how one can’t afford to ignore the stroke in modern tennis. Leander himself is not particularly strong on his backhand side, but he is determined to improve. And this is how he embarked on honing his backhand skills.
“We keep talking about my backhand technique not being great,” Leander said. “It was last year; no actually it was by the end of 2014 that I figured who had the best backhand among the (top) players in the world. Stan Wawrinka probably stands out.
“(Roger) Federer is more like a genius; you don’t get that timing with him. He’s a friend, but you don’t get that ability with him, you can only watch him. So I asked Wawrinka, ‘Can we play doubles together?’ He is a good friend. He said, ‘Yeah, of course. I would love to play with you’. So, we played together in Paris (Masters doubles, where they went up to the quarterfinals). We played some good tennis.
“Then I asked him again, ‘Can we play in Cincinnati (August 2015) together?’ Stan agreed.
“When we played those two tournaments, during practice sessions, all that I kept asking Stan was the right questions on his backhand, and I kept working on it. Actually, during those two weeks, he was coaching me on the backhand side.
“So, now when I play, and at the Chennai Open when I played I realised my backhand has improved so much that I was finding everyone coming to my forehand only, which, you know, is actually my strength.
“The important part here is, to be very specific to what your needs are. What do you need, hence what do you do? You create your lifestyle and the environment to do that. For example, I had to improve my backhand, I had to identify the best person who could teach me that, and in this case a player I could partner in the doubles, play with him, ask the right questions, do the right things and practise time and time and time and time again. So now I’m catching up.
“It’s the same thing with diet – what you need is what you feed. So basically if I am going to burn six hours of energy, what does that work in terms of calories, I only eat that much.
“But now I don’t need to burn six hours of energy. The doubles rules have changed so much that I would be playing about an hour or so. In the ATP format, it’s about an hour or hour and 10 minutes. So, what does that burn in terms of calories, I eat only that much.”