"There's nothing else that's not been won. For me, I am in a great stage in my career. I am playing for fun."
Leander Paes is used to people reminding him of his age, quizzing him on his targets for a new season and the inevitable discussion about his fitness.
Now 45, the grand old man of tennis smiles politely and says that he does not want to “sit here and tell you all the things I have done” before speaking about his fitness.
The current version of him is “much faster younger quicker, fresher,” in his own words. Speaking about his pre-season, Paes said, “I am really happy with my off-season. I have gotten faster, stronger, I feel really good with my game and I won’t be surprised if I have a really good year.”
Paes and Miguel Angel Reyes-Varela, his doubles partner, lost to Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan in the quarterfinals of the Maharashtra Open on Thursday. What irked him was the manner of the loss, not the loss itself. “When you have six match points and you don’t win a match, trust me, it hurts. That’s something that I have prided myself on in my whole career," he said.
That said, Paes was happy with the work Varela has put in during the off-season. “He has worked really hard and the tennis that he has played this fortnight has improved so much since the fourth quarter of last year.”
But Paes, who has had more than a hundred doubles partners in his long, storied career, stopped just short of declaring their partnership for the season, saying, “He gives me a lot of confidence in the way he is playing now but it is a long season. If you are winning matches, you stick together. If you are not winning then [that may not be the case].”
Paes won a record-breaking 43rd doubles match for India at the Davis Cup last year but he is out of the team that will play Italy next month. While disappointed, he said he wishes the team luck and isn’t going to mull over his exclusion. “Man, I got the Davis Cup world record, what disappointment is that?” Paes joked, before adding, on a more serious note, that “there is no secret about what is going on in the Davis Cup [team]” – hinting about the external, non-sporting factors at play.
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But Paes, right now, looks immune to anything that doesn’t concern his playing tennis. Center Court or outer court, picked to play for India or consciously overlooked, he is just happy to play, to entertain and is hungry to have a good year.
“I am 45 years old but I just love the effort and the magic that goes into playing tennis. I am playing because I have a lot of fun. And if I can win some more matches, if I can win another Grand Slam, if I can get to another few matches that I can win in the Davis Cup or the Olympics so be it. But there is nothing else to achieve, there is nothing to sit here [and] prove to myself, let alone to anyone else,” he concluded.
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