India needs to nurture a young team, says Davis Cup hero Leander Paes

Indian tennis veteran Leander Paes, who claimed a record 44th Davis Cup win against Pakistan, says the country needs a younger team for the future.

Smiles all around: India tennis team coach Zeeshan Ali, veteran Leander Paes and captain Rohit Rajpal were all smiles as they returned after India's 4-0 Davis Cup triumph over Pakistan.   -  Special Arrangement

The task was simple, but the challenge was enormous. Having served the country for 30 years and establishing himself as one of the greatest tennis players in Davis Cup history, Leander Paes said he was pleased with India's ruthless win over Pakistan in Nur Sultan, Kazakhstan.

Returning in the early hours of Monday from the 4-0 Davis Cup win over Pakistan, where the Indian team dropped a mere seven games in all, Leander met the media along with captain Rohit Rajpal and coach Zeeshan Ali after a warm reception at the airport.

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The 46-year-old Leander said it was important not to forfeit the tie, which had looked a possibility at one stage, and thanked the Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju for supporting the team when the situation was not clear.

Beating Pakistan, which did not have a single player in the top-1000 of ATP rankings, was not a challenge but handling the tricky situation when some of the Indian players expressed their concern about not travelling to Pakistan was the key.

Leander stressed that it was important for the younger generation, not to be relegated in Davis Cup, and thus said he was happy to play his part in ensuring a smooth journey to Croatia for the tie to be played in March.

Having made his Davis Cup debut in 1990 against Japan in Chandigarh, Leander acknowledged that Zeeshan had guided him through the long match when the Indian pair won 18-16 in the fifth set. He also recalled how he had taken the place of Rohit Rajpal then, as the fourth member in the squad.

"I have lived my career, playing for my country," said Leander, who had won the singles bronze medal in the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, against all odds, apart from winning 18 Grand Slam doubles titles.

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While both captain and coach were unanimous in rating Leander’s immense experience very high, Rajpal praised the two physios Anand Dubey and Yash Pandey for ensuring good preparation.

"I have played in Sweden in cold conditions. Some times even when you tear a muscle, you will not know, and may aggravate the injury," said Rajpal, while highlighting the significant role played by the physios.

Looking at the challenge ahead, Zeeshan Ali said that the Indian team would prepare well for the next tie in Croatia, which has superior-ranked players.

"We have beaten Australia in Australia when it had four top-10 players in 1987," said Zeeshan, as he reminded about the Indian team’s ability to work the magic in Davis Cup.

Leander had himself played a significant role by beating Goran Ivanisevic in the last tie against Croatia in 1995. India won 3-2 then on grass at the NSCI in Delhi, when Leander won both his singles matches apart from the doubles with Mahesh Bhupathi.

"I should have been moved out by the younger generation. We need to nurture a young team," said Leander, even as he emphasised that it was not tough physically any more, in best of three sets, when a doubles rubber spanned about one and a half to two hours.