Leander Paes wears his heart on his sleeve. The Indian tennis icon, who emerged as the first Asian man to be nominated for the International Tennis Hall of Fame in the player category a couple of days ago, believes that this nomination belongs to everyone who supported him in his career, spanning over three decades.
The multiple Grand Slam winner was one of the six nominees announced for the Class of 2024. He will be competing with Ana Ivanovic, Carlos Moya, Flavia Pennetta, Cara Black and Daniel Nestor in the Player Category.
Interestingly, in his long and illustrious career, Paes partnered with Black and Nestor in doubles and mixed doubles categories and went on to win several titles - including the Australian Open.
In 2019, Chinese ace Li Na - who won the women’s singles title at Australian Open and French Open - became the first Asian player to get nominated to the International Tennis Hall of Fame. But now, with Peas being one of the nominees, it’s a huge moment for Indian and Asian tennis.
“It is such a humbling feeling to be recognised by the eminent body of world tennis for the three decades of passion and hard work that I put into our sport and playing for the country,” Paes tells Sportstar.
Paes clinched 18 Grand Slam titles in doubles and mixed doubles, besides being a former doubles world No. 1. “Most things I have done in my career are majorly to inspire people and to put India on the global map. My efforts also showed the world that with hard work, passion and dedication, we can achieve anything that we can put our minds in,” Paes says.
“I feel so blessed to have such a supportive parent; the siblings and the daughter that I have. The coaches, trainers, Davis Cup captains and so many well-wishers have played a very important role in my career by supporting and inspiring me. This nomination belongs to everybody who has supported me in my journey. It would be a wonderful thing for me and India to be inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame…” Paes, who turned 50 in June, says.
This year’s online fan voting for the player category will continue till October 9, and Paes believes that this nomination has further added his responsibility. “It’s also my responsibility to promote the sport of tennis throughout the world so that the youngsters take to the game a lot more. Especially in India and Asia right now, the kids need a lot of inspiration to play tennis. I hope this nomination can continue to popularise tennis in Asia, India and the world and also give a message to the youngsters that we, too, could be achievers, if we put our minds to it…” Paes says.
Hailing from a family of Olympians - his father Vece Paes was a member of India’s gold-medal winning hockey team, while mother Jennifer led India in basketball - Paes’ journey has been quite eventful and he owes it to his parents. “My father always raised the bar. He has been a huge source of inspiration, guidance and motivation. I wouldn’t have been anything without his unconditional love, support, guidance and the knowledge that he passed on to me,” he says.
Black, Ivanovic, Moya, Nestor and Pennetta fell short of the required 75 per cent of the vote in past balloting from the official voting group - comprising the media, historians, Hall of Famers and industry experts - and bonus percentage points awarded based on a fan vote.
Besides Paes, Indian tennis legend Vijay Amritraj has also been nominated in the contributor category. “I would like to congratulate all the nominees. Every one of them is a great champion, especially Cara Black with whom I won multiple Grand Slams with, and Daniel Nestor, who’s been one of my partners and fiercest competitors,” Paes says, adding: “I also congratulate Vijay Amritraj for his nomination in the contributor category…”
Paes spent a total of 462 weeks inside the ATP doubles top 10, including 37 weeks at No. 1, and won 55 doubles titles on tour. He holds the Davis Cup record with 43 doubles ties victories, and he put Indian tennis on the global map, becoming the country’s only Olympic medalist in tennis, earning bronze at the Atlanta Games in 1996. Over the last three decades, Paes has continued to inspire several athletes, and he hopes to make it to the Hall of Fame, this time around.
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