Paes, Raja confident about US Open run

The new pair cruised through the first round of the men’s doubles, defeating Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic and Viktor Troicki 6-1, 6-3.

Leander Paes (left) and Purav Raja partnered together last month after the latter’s regular partnership with Divij Sharan failed to get them a direct entry into the US Open.   -  Sandeep Saxena (File Photo)

It was a full house on Court 15 as India’s Leander Paes and Purav Raja cruised through the first round of the men’s doubles at the US Open, defeating Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic and Viktor Troicki 6-1, 6-3. This is Paes and Raja’s first partnership in a Grand Slam event.

Paes and Raja partnered together last month after the latter’s regular partnership with Divij Sharan failed to get them a direct entry into the US Open. The duo had played at the Winston-Salem Open last week and lost in the opening round. Speaking to Sportstar about the partnership, Paes said, “Purav and I have been working very hard. It has been a long time since I have played with someone who understands the doubles game this intuitively. This is very exciting for us.”

The match lasted all of 56 minutes, but the crowd had much to cheer for - deft pickups at the net by Raja, impossible angled drop shots from Paes and most of all the camaraderie - “You, baby!” Paes yelled at a particular point - shared between the two. “That camaraderie you share with your partner becomes a brotherhood. I love waking up in the morning, knowing Purav is by my side and we’re going to help each other out through thick and thin. Whether you win, lose or something in between, it doesn’t matter. You’re together as a team.”

‘Lucky’

At 44, Paes — the oldest player at the US Open – is playing at his 14th consecutive trip to Flushing Meadows and his 20th in the past 21 years. “You have to be passionate about what you do,” Paes said. “Tennis is a phenomenal sport, and to call it our job? We’re really lucky. It’s a privilege to have this life.

Raja is playing at his first US Open. “The game is so much bigger once you’re playing at the bigger tournaments. Winning one or two rounds at a big tournament like this is bigger than winning a Challenger,” he said.

Asked whether this partnership is likely to continue, Raja said, “It is a privilege to play with him. We’re taking it week by week. We’re enjoying every moment. We have to work out our different schedules and tournaments, so we'll have to wait and see.”

Paes and Raja first played together in 2013 in the first round of a Davis Cup tie against Korea. At that time, Raja was Paes’ 92nd men’s doubles partner. Paes has since then partnered with many more, including the 20-year-old Alexander Zverev in Cincinnati. “I’ve had to adjust to so many partners and that’s what makes tennis fun for me - to keep remodelling my game to suit my partners’ best and bring the best out in them,” Paes said.

‘New Indian Express’

The duo is optimistic about their run at the US Open. They will face the Russian team of Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev in the next round. “If we can create some magic like the old Indian Express created, we have a new Indian Express rolling into town,” Paes said. “The old makes way for the new and if we can create some history like that.. that’s my dream.”