Paes: I have always been in the big league

Leander Paes has conveyed that his title win at a Challenger event in South Korea was a good warmup in the hard courts before the Olympics this year, and that his participation in the Challenger event does not change that 'I have always been in the big league'.

Leander Paes: 'Perceptions can be altered, but truth and class always remain.'   -  R. Ragu

The numbers may not be in his favour, but Leander Paes believes that he is no less a champion than anyone else.

The 42-year-old Paes, who has slipped in the rankings to No. 54 in doubles this week, and forced to compete in the less-rewarding Challenger circuit, was happy to find the winning touch in Korea. It was the first title for him since winning the mixed doubles title in the US Open with Martina Hingis in September 2015.

> Read: Paes wins Challenger

"It is always great to be a winner," said Paes, who won the $100,000 Busan Challenger with Sam Groth of Australia on Sunday, an effort that fetched the pair $6200 and 110 ATP points.

With Rohan Bopanna, ranked No.13 in the world after finishing runner-up in the €4.7 million ATP event in Madrid on Sunday, and pocketing €138,400 and 600 ATP points with Florin Mergea of Romania, there was no doubt about who would have a better say in the weeks ahead.

A good run in the €4.3 million ATP event in Rome this week, followed by the French Open in Paris, where he had made the third round last year, is very likely to push Bopanna back into the top-10, by the cut-off date for the Olympics, on June 6.

Interestingly, the big points from the Stuttgart title last year are set to fall out of his account only a week after the Olympics deadline. The top-10 player, by the ITF rule, will have the right of choice for doubles partner. However, it may be recalled that Paes could not exercise the right the last time in 2012, for the London Olympics.

Thus, Paes is not overly concerned about making it to a record seventh Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Like a good chess player who looks ahead of the obvious next move, he sees further ahead. "Great to win on the hard courts before the Olympics," said Paes, who would be competing in another Challenger in Seoul this week.

First Challenger title since 2000

Paes side-stepped the question about his entry in the French Open and the name of his partner, even as he dismissed the idea of taking the small steps to get back into the big league. He was winning a Challenger title for the first time since the year 2000. "I have always been in the big league," countered Paes.

It was indeed a statement of fact as Paes has won a Tour title every year since 1997, in a phenomenal career in which he has won 54 doubles titles in the big league. "Winning three Grand Slams out of four, leading into the Olympic year is not big enough for you?," Paes shot back.

The evergreen champion, who had won the individual Olympic bronze behind Andre Agassi and Sergei Bruguera at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, Paes firmly believes that Olympic medals are still within his reach. The problem, perhaps, is to find players sharing the faith.

"Perceptions can be altered, but truth and class always remain," said Paes, emphasising his fierce determination and the strong self belief that has helped him sail over the hurdles, over the years.

Eventually, it may be the numbers that would decide, and it may be difficult for Paes to find favour from the numbers. Anyway, it is common knowledge that Paes loves a challenge. He is ready for a fight!

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