The Purav Raja-Leander Paes duo isn't the typical doubles pair that one sees regularly on tour. By Leander's own admission, they are a bit “unique.” At a time when doubles is increasingly dominated by a combination of one booming serve and one crushing return, the two rely more on court-craft than power.
Yet they have tasted success. After having joined forces just ahead of the US Open, Purav and Leander capped 2017 on a rousing note, capturing back-to-back Challenger titles. As they step into the new season at the inaugural Tata Open Maharashtra, the hope is for this to act as portent for the future.
“We have been working really hard,” said Leander. “Being undefeated in those last two or three tournaments taught us a lot about camaraderie and team work. Purav plays a very interesting kind of doubles. That's taken a little getting used to. But being the type of player I am, I try and adapt and that has always helped me succeed.”
“He has evolved a little bit,” said Purav. “From different generations, we have tried to get together and form a system. There is a slight difference in the way we approach things. So our system is based on his experience and my new knowledge like I-formations, the return patterns etc.”
Technical adjustments have been crucial to this. According to Leander, Purav being a natural ad-court player helps so does his partner's “world-class backhand return,” which sets him up for what probably is his best shot – the first volley.
“For Leander, his third shot, the first volley, is the best,” explained Purav. “For me, the second shot is the best, the return. So our target is to get to that shot. Leander sets himself up on the serve and return to play that third shot well. So that's the way we approach.”
“We always want to give our opponent the toughest shot to hit,” said Leander. “I love to bring my attributes like speed, reflexes and angles. I still love controlling the tennis court and dominating things.”
However, modern-day doubles doesn't allow much time for such ideas to take root with constant changing of partners being the bane.
“Only the top 8 to 10 teams can stick to the same partners,” said Leander. “Even there, there is no guarantee. Singles players can use their ranking for doubles entry. So this makes the doubles rankings much more important. Earlier, being 45-50 in the world could get you into a Masters or ATP 500. Not anymore. Michael Venus won the French Open with Ryan Harrison but is no longer playing with him. Earlier, you win a Grand Slam, you stick with that partner. This is how unique doubles is today.”
This is perhaps the reason why Purav and Leander while looking to play the 2018 season together, haven't set any specific goals yet.
“I am more interested in winning the right matches at the bigger tournaments,” said Purav. “With Leander, you cannot really set Top-30 as a goal because he has done it all his life. Our targets and experiences have been so different. So we try and expand every week as a tennis team. That's why I have treated this year a bit differently.”
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