At 42, Paes still unstoppable (Profile)

Mumbai, Sep 12 (IANS) The effervescent and age-defying Leander Paes has again done India proud. This time around, on the hard courts of the US Open, the 42-year-old legend partnered Swiss veteran Martina Hingis — his 24th mixed doubles partner — to beat unseeded Americans Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Sam Querrey 6-4, 3-6, 10-7 in the final.

After one hour and 17 minutes of tussle, Paes pocketed his 17th Grand Slam title. His illustrious career, marked by high level of consistency, unfliching devotion and undying spirit, now includes nine mixed doubles titles and eight doubles titles.

With this title, 42-year-old Paes became the first man to pocket nine mixed doubles title, surpassing compatriot and former doubles partner Mahesh Bhupathi, who has eight.

Paes and Hingis also first team since 1969 and second in the Open era to capture three of four Majors in a calendar year.

At an age where profession sportspersons look for their second innings, Paes seemed to be unstoppable, still having the hunger of a boy who was trained at the Britannia Tennis Academy run by the Amritraj family.

Paes, whose father Vece Paes was a member of the Indian hockey team which won a bronze medal in the 1972 Munich Olympics and mother, Jennifer, was a member of the national basketball team, began playing tennis at the age of five and still feels he has many things to learn and that seems to be the key.

Paes, who is known as one of the best volleyers and a talented drop-shotter, made his presence felt in the tennis world by winning the Wimbledon Junior title way back in 1990 at age 17 – and this eventually proved to be the the turning point of his career.

Since then, the Calcutta (now Kolkata) born has been representing India at various international tournaments.

He has brought glory to the country by winning many tournaments, of which the Davis Cup and the bronze medal at the Atlanta Olympics 1996 is worth mentioning.

Paes remained the No.1 junior player in the world for some time at the start of his career.

Paes, along with compatriot Mahesh Bhupathi, created a sensation in international tennis by winning many of the coveted Grand Slam doubles titles, including the Wimbledon and the French Open tournaments. It can be rightly said that the Indian tricolour always brings the best out of him.

The doubles team of Paes and Bhupathi grew stronger in 1998, reaching the semi-finals of three Grand Slams, the Australian Open, the French Open, and the US Open. In the same year, Paes had two of his biggest singles results in the ATP tour.

The first one came by winning an ATP singles title at Newport, and the second was beating the legendary Pete Sampras, 6-3, 6-4 at the New Haven ATP tournament in their only meeting throughout his career.

Paes’ record at the Davis Cup has been simply superb, where he has grounded players much higher in ranking than him. He, along with Bhupati, remained the No. 1 doubles pair for a long time.

One of the most successful professional Indian tennis players, Paes has received the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, India’s highest sporting honour, in 1996; the Arjuna Award in 1990; the Padma Shri in 2001 and India’s third highest civilian award, the Padma Bhushan, in 2014 for his outstanding contribution to tennis in India.

Despite facing several obstacles like a parasitic infection in his brain which threatened his playing career way back in 2003, or his controversies involving his personal life, Paes has marched ahead, making the country proud.

In 2015, even though his doubles ranking has not been up and running, he has compensated for this by winning three Major mixed doubles titles.

And, with less than a year left for the 2016 Olympics, the expressive and patriotic Indian seems to be all set for a final hurrah at the quadrennial extravaganza.

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