Paes: 'Want to win 20 Grand Slams'

India's legendary tennis star elaborated about his fitness regimen and diet that enabled him to compete at the highest level for so over 25 years.

Leander Paes

"When I was younger, I was putting seven hours a day on the court. Now, I train less to remain injury-free," says Leander Paes.   -  V. Sreenivasa Murthy

Practising his strokes for over seven million times has given him an unforgettable muscle memory. An uncompromising diet has kept his fitness intact. Leander Paes is through with another season of his 25-year-long career but he isn't finished yet. At 43, Paes's next target is to win 20 Grand Slams.

India's legendary tennis star elaborated to PTI about his fitness regimen and diet that enabled him to compete at the highest level for so long.

On muscle memory: Now it’s very different than how I used to train 20 years ago. Then, I was trying to get lot of muscle memory, which means I had to hit 50-75 serves every day. Sometime kick serves on the ad court sometimes slice serves on the deuce court. Sharp serve down the T and a low backhand volley. I had to get 3 million repetitions into all the parts of the body, so they remember it. So that when I am under pressure, that repetition happens automatically. Muscle memory means when I am playing Wimbledon semifinals, and I am under pressure serving at 4-5, you don’t choke.

On injuries: Now I have to protect myself from overuse injuries. There is a lot more emphasis on fitness and rehab. When I was younger, I was putting seven hours on the court a day. Now, I am putting less hours on the court so that I protect certain joints, like the rotator cuffs, the knees, the lower back.

In 28 years, I would have hit each stroke 7-8 million times so I don't want to hurt the same rotator cuff tendon. The patella tendon, you don’t want to hurt by playing more on hard courts. You don't want to hurt your hamstring, lower back and the location of vertebrate.

On people who take care of his fitness: My father plans my fitness and he always changes program every three months. Bob Carmichael and Rick Leach (his coaches) are instrumental in who I am as athlete. So my father, trainer Sanjay Singh and two coaches modified my training, kept me injury free.

On diet: I used to eat everything. When I was 12 in Chennai I had fitness coach Dave O’meara. He converted me into a vegetarian by teaching me the effects of meat in the body. I was veggie for 13 years. He told me I'll become sluggish if I eat more meat. If you see the big cats, they have to sleep whole day to digest the meat. It takes 72 hours to digest. Vegetables, fruits, and fibers digest much faster.

I loved the result of being vegetarian. But my body was not getting Omega 3. I was not getting enough zinc, magnesium, and the iron. Because my fat4 percentage was low, every time I played a two-hour match, I was getting full body cramps. So I started taking fish but I was only taking salmon. I was allowing good fats but no bad fats like ghee and butter. Till today I eat lot of fish.

On his parents' support: My father (Vece Paes) is a doctor and an athlete, this combination is luck. He educated me on how to enhance body naturally. My athleticism, mental training has come from home. We talk about sport at the dining table at home. I had champion parents, they taught me how to handle pressure and how to regain form.

On skills of other players: Everyone has different God-given skills. Roger Federer has technique, Rafa Nadal has power, Novak Djokovic has flexibility and mind. Michael Chang never tried serving like Stefan Edberg but his speed was great, modeled his training to enhance his God-given talent.

On his motorbikes collection: I love bikes and riding off, feeling the wind up against your face. I love speed. But you have to be careful. I have two (bikes) now but over the years I had 7-8 bikes.

On reading: I read to destress. I like autobiographies, I don’t like fiction. I have read many scriptures as well.