Tributes flow for Leander Paes

Paes and Bopanna downed a fighting Chinese pair of Mo Xin Gong and Ze Zhang 5-7 7-6(5) 7-6(3) in Tianjin.

For Anand Amritraj, the previous Davis Cup skipper, it was Paes the thinker which has stood out.   -  PTI

Leander Paes has long been the gold standard for longevity in Indian sport. If ever it needed another reminder, it came on Saturday when, in the company of Rohan Bopanna, he clinched a record-breaking 43rd Davis Cup doubles win.

READ: Paes creates world record in India’s stunning comeback win

“He still comes in with the same intensity as he did 25 years ago,” said Zeeshan Ali, India's Davis Cup coach who incidentally was Paes' doubles partner when the latter made his Davis Cup debut in 1990. “It can't be taught, it is something you are born with. It has been a hard long road. Even the record didn't come easy against China.”

Zeeshan credited Paes' hunger to continue well into his 45th year to his incredible ability to constantly reassess his goals.

“He is always like 'what next'. That has kept him going,” Zeeshan said. “The day you stop doing that, you can be done with your career. Players over three decades change, are more controlled and can keep a lid on their emotions. With Leander, the emotions still overflow. It is very infectious and we saw that today in the huge turnaround we had.”

For Anand Amritraj, the previous Davis Cup skipper, it was Paes the thinker which has stood out.

READ: Leander Paes: 'You need to be an all-court player'

“The game has changed,” Amritraj said. “He is not as quick as he used to be. But he is still playing very good tennis. He is much more of a thinker on the court as opposed to just hitting the ball. These are things which come as you grow older. For Leander, a lot of it came early and naturally.”

“43 doubles wins is not easy. It's an amazing achievement. It's great that he finally has the record to himself as opposed to sharing it [with Nicola Pietrangeli],” he added.

Ramesh Krishnan, another of the yesteryear greats, opined that it was Paes' ability to wriggle out of tight situations, that has held him in great stead. In fact, on Saturday, India came twice within two points of losing the tie and one of those was on Paes' racquet deep in the third set when he was down 0-30 serving at 5-6.

“[The record] is a fantastic achievement by itself,” Ramesh said. “But more importantly it contributed to our win. It's sweeter while coming back from 2-0 down. He has kept himself very fit. Under tight situations, he still has it in him to scrape through.”

Meanwhile, Prajnesh Gunneswaran, playing only his second Davis Cup tie, beat China's Yibing Wu 6-4, 6-2 to seal the tie for India. And the Chennai boy rated the win as one of his 'best' performances. "It is very difficult to explain it in words. It couldn't have come at a better time. At 2-2, in the reverse singles. Davis Cup is unlike anything else," he said before adding, "It is possibly my biggest win. I also made a Challenger final which is a great personal achievement. But this may edge it because of the sheer weight of the moment. I had never ever played a deciding rubber. So certainly up there with the best."