Leander Paes has his future sorted after retirement. The 46-year-old Indian tennis star will put efforts towards nurturing and bringing up the next generation of tennis players once he walks away from the game at the end of this year.
Paes, who is playing his last ATP World Tour event in India – the Maharashtra Open – says he is already in the process of unearthing future Indian tennis stars and once he’s retired, he could to go all in towards his goal.
“One of the principle aims for me (post retirement) is to make the next generation of tennis players from India. I’m in the process of figuring out a committed corporate sponsor with long-term vision to help me build a singles Grand Slam winner from India,” Paes told Times of India in an interview.
“Not to just nurture champions. Everyone is trying to build Sachin, Leander or the next Roger Federer or Tiger Woods. I think (we have) to use sports as a vehicle to make an intellectual race that we Indians are, into an athletic race too.”
Paes weighed in on the top three of international tennis – Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, and in his opinion, considers the 20-time Grand Slam winner Federer, the greatest of all time although believes his record will be broken by his greatest rival – Nadal.
“To me, Federer is the greatest player of all time. Rod Laver has won the full Grand Slam as an amateur and as a pro, but to me Roger with what he has done in his career is phenomenal on every surface. But I feel Nadal is going to overtake Federer’s tally of 20 Slam wins,” Paes said.
“I think as far as style goes, if you are a traditionalist, Roger wins hands down. If you are a bull-fighting rugged street fighter, Rafa Nadal wins hands down. But if you are an intellectual, who likes mathematics and balance, perfection maybe, Djokovic is better.”
Remembering the time he beat the Swiss tennis star early into his career, Paes recalled a particular backhand from Federer which he, to date, can’t forget.
“I beat him at the Indian Wells qualifying in 2000. Federer was an upcoming player then. He rifled a backhand against me with straight arm, straight up the line that went like a laser beam. My god, I had never seen anyone do that. Not even Andre Agassi.”
During his three-decade long career, Paes has won eight doubles and ten mixed doubles Grand Slam titles, but for him, no title comes close to representing India at the Olympics. Paes competed in consecutive Olympics from 1992 to 2016, making him the first Indian and only tennis player to compete at seven Olympic Games.
“The greatest joy for any athlete is to play for your people. In my case, it’s ‘Tiranga’ (Tricolour),” he said. “The epitome of an athlete’s career could be representing your country in the Olympics. The motivation came from ironing my mum’s No. 5 jersey when she played for India (basketball)… when I ironed my dad’s No. 10 jersey when he played for India (hockey, Munich 1972 bronze). Every Sunday morning, I used to polish my dad’s medal.”