Paes: What IPL did to cricket, IPTL is doing for tennis

"I would love to play for the Indian team. There was a lot of deliberation about me playing on the Indian team. That said, the Indian team won the ITPL last year and they wanted to play with the same team from last year," said Paes.

Leander Paes expressed his desire to play for an Indian franchise in the IPTL.   -  AP

When the loudest cheers at a tennis stadium in the city featuring the best of Indian tennis is reserved for a Spaniard, it is clear this is not going to be about the nation, never mind that the teams have national identities tagged on to them.

So when Leander Paes, the most prominent flag-bearer of Indian sports says that the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) is, at its heart, an exhibition tournament that is aimed at showcasing the sport across the world more than any serious competition, you know where he was coming from.

“Yes this is exhibition tennis showcasing the best of the game across the world,” he said after his team, the Japan Warriors, won its maiden match of the season, against UAE Royals.

He did go on to add that getting the biggest names in the game to the country would be a big boost. “I see this as a direct rub-off of the IPL. What IPL did to cricket in India and the [rest of the] world, IPTL is doing for tennis,” he said.

‘Put me on the show court and I’m ready to go’

“Normally there is one big show court and the stands are packed. Put me on the show court, lights camera, action, and I am ready to go. Exhibition tennis used to be tough for me, but both here and at the World Team Tennis (where he played for the Washington Castles for seven years), I have been able to adapt, where I bring out and showcase my best,” he admitted.

Adaptability has been one of Paes’ biggest strengths, helping him survive the gruel of professional tennis for more than 20 years. “It takes time to adapt to the technicalities and rules, the team and the format. So far, my record as an individual contributing to the team has been good. Interestingly, I have been benched in the mixed doubles, which has been my best event so far this year, I am not used to it, but Pierre-Hugues Herbert has been playing so well,” he said.

‘Would love to play for the Indian franchise’

For someone who wears his patriotism on the sleeves, it was imperative that Paes was asked about his aligning with the Japanese despite the presence of an Indian franchise. “I would love to play for the Indian team. There was a lot of deliberation about me playing on the Indian team. That said, the Indian team won the ITPL last year and they wanted to play with the same team from last year. I hope we can keep winning matches like this and next year I can play for the Indian team,” he said.

Paes, who turned out for the rival Champions Tennis League last year, refused to compare the two but admitted money was the reason for switching camps to his erstwhile friend-turned-foe Mahesh Bhupathi. “It is a correct statement, Leander doesn't come cheap,” he joked.