Indian tennis icon Leander Paes has fond memories of the Australian Open.
The 1989 Australian Open was his first-ever Slam appearance. In the next year, he finished runner-up in the boys’ event, going down to Germany’s Dirk Dier.
“Getting into the Australian Open junior finals in 1990 gave me immense belief that I could be a World Champion,” Paes said during the Australian Open 2020 India launch on Monday.
“The reason I took up tennis was to play Olympics and also for the individuality of it. I figured that if I worked hard enough, even I could own one of these trophies. In 1990, when I got that first trophy at the Australian Open, till today it sits in the pride of place at my parents house. That’s Australian Open for me,” Paes said.
In his long and illustrious career, the 18-time Grand Slam winner has won titles with both Martina Navratilova and Martina Hingis Down Under. “The Australian Open is one Grand Slam where I have won the mixed doubles with both the Martina’s. Navratilova epitomises perseverance. She took fitness and gym work to a new level. To have played with Navratilova over three years and to being that close to her over time has helped me in my career that, at 46, I keep re-inventing myself, my training methods, my diets and my fitness,” Paes said.
“Martina Navratilova taught us how physical fitness was a pre-requisite. She taught me that and it is the reason I had such a long career,” Paes admitted.
Hingis, on the other hand, taught him a lot about technique. “I don't consider myself a very talented tennis player, I am more of an athlete. I felt that playing with Hingis — her ground strokes, technique, volley - her technique was phenomenal. Playing with her I used to practise hours and hours and the matches were just extension of practice sessions…” the 46-year-old Paes said.
While he is still undecided about his participation at the Australian Open, Paes is lured by the records that are waiting to be achieved. Serena Williams is looking to break a crazy record, Rafael Nadal is looking to get to Roger Federer’s record and some of us are looking to create our own history,” he said.
“The Australian Open 2020 is going to a fabulous destination in sport because Serena Williams is looking to break a crazy record, Rafael Nadal is looking to get to Roger Federer’s record...I hope I can create some history there too,” Paes said.
Asked about his plan for Tokyo Olympics next year, Paes said: “I was born for the Olympics. Everything I dreamt for and wished to play for off-late is to play for our people. If I am approached to play for our country, rest assured I will be there…”
“I have got the World Record for most number of Olympics played but I think an eighth Olympics would make sure that we seal that record,” the tennis icon said.
The Australian Open 2020 will be broadcast live on Sony Pictures Sports Network from January 20, 2020.
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