It was meant to be one final roar. Instead, it’s turning out to be a quiet slumber. Leander Paes would have been singing swansongs in numerous tournaments in his final yr as an expert tennis participant if not for the suspension of the Tour because of the Covid-19 pandemic. At residence since March, Paes—who will flip 47 on Wednesday—is mulling his subsequent observe. In a marathon achievement checklist that contains 18 Grand Slam titles, report for many doubles wins within the Davis Cup and an Olympic bronze, Paes says on this interview that he wouldn’t draw back from working a closing dash to chase one other report: an eighth Olympics in Tokyo subsequent yr, which might stretch his personal world report of most Olympic appearances by any tennis participant.
What has this lockdown meant for you?
The lockdown has been very exhausting, not only for me however nearly all people across the planet. Personally, I’ve already had 18 deaths of very shut mates or household mates during the last three months due to Covid-19. So it’s near residence.
For tennis gamers, all of us are out of a job; I haven’t had one because the first week of March. No one is incomes. I’ve received houses to run. I take care of my aged dad and mom, my younger daughter and have to offer meals on their desk. Also, I’ve retained all my employees and I’m nonetheless paying them. For just a few of us who’re fortunate sufficient to have put somewhat bit of cash away for a wet day, we’re additionally struggling to maintain ourselves. My coronary heart goes out to the opposite individuals who may not have that.
Being away from tennis for this lengthy should really feel uncommon …
It has compelled me discover methods to reinvent myself. I used to be on my One Last Roar (farewell) season on the tennis tour, and it began off brilliantly. In Bengaluru (ATP Challenger in February)—which was purported to be my final event in India—individuals had been like, ‘Why are you retiring? You are nonetheless enjoying nice’. I received to the finals there, and everybody once more goes like, ‘See, we informed you so! This shouldn’t be your closing event’. It was nearly like karmic conversations. I performed my final match on the Davis Cup (towards Croatia in March), the place Rohan (Bopanna) and I performed actually good tennis to win. And then that’s it. I haven’t touched my tennis racquet since.
What this lockdown has additionally performed is given me a breather. In September 2019, I used to be so exhausted from the 30 years of journey that I mentioned to my staff, ‘Guys, I’m simply not there. I’m actually drained’. That’s what prompted us to give you the One Last Roar season.
At your age, will such an extended break make it doubly exhausting to press the reset button?
I believe it’s quadruply more durable. One, due to my age. Two, if you do it for as lengthy and as loud as I’ve performed it, I sit again now and say, ‘What else is there to play for?’ When I requested my staff that query, they mentioned: ‘simply play for enjoyable now, play since you like it, take pleasure in it.’ My dad (former hockey Olympic medallist Vece Paes) is at all times at me, saying skilled sport is a lifestyle and you should proceed with it. I inform him that there can be no finish to it, whether or not you’re 47, 37 or 57. But what’s the motive to journey one other 30-40 weeks of the yr? Give me a motive. Give me inspiration.
Speaking of motivation, there’s a record-stretching eighth Olympic and 100 Grand Slam look, of which you’re three shy.
Olympics is the primary issue. To make it possible for India’s identify is eternally etched within the historical past books is a big factor for me. I’ve run the race so exhausting and so properly already, and to dash one other 100m for the sake of report books could be very related. Whether the Olympics occur in 2021 or not is a big subject. Plus, to play the primary attracts of 100 Grand Slams is just not too unhealthy, no?
What are the areas it is advisable to concentrate on if you return to the court docket?
Tennis is like driving a motorbike for me. The muscle reminiscence that I’ve is way superior to any younger one arising. As a lot it takes 10,000 hours and three million repetitions to create muscle reminiscence on every stroke, I’ve possibly received 60,000 hours and 12 million repetitions on every stroke due to consuming, residing and respiration tennis from the age of 5 to 47. The key can be health ranges and restoration.
The shoulders are one space that I must concentrate on, as a result of the serve is such an unnatural motion. I’ve to make it possible for the muscle groups round my enjoying shoulder are properly tuned. That takes somewhat little bit of rubber band work, weights work, bulk constructing to make it possible for the rotator cuff is properly oiled; the biomechanics of the kick serve, the slice serve, the rotation of the muscle groups are so as. Also, as a result of I play doubles, I’ll should concentrate on quick sprints. But aside from that, method, hand-eye coordination, reflexes—all that’s nonetheless completely intact, and it confirmed in the way in which I performed at the start of this yr. Just just a few weeks of coaching and I needs to be good.
Do you count on tennis to be completely different within the post-Covid world with no spectators, handshakes or, in your case, chest bumps?
(Laughs) It’ll be very unusual not being allowed to do the chest bumps since one based and began it approach again within the day. I don’t assume the world publish Covid-19 would be the similar as earlier than, and it goes for tennis too. High-fives could be low-fives with the ft, racquet faucets may change handshakes. There is numerous hope all over the world that tennis might be one of many first few sports activities to come back again, as a result of there isn’t a actual human contact in it. But you’ll should play with modified guidelines: Don’t cross the web after each two video games. Maybe, you don’t share the balls on the court docket; your opponent can have six balls on one aspect and you’ll have six on one other. We additionally could be enjoying behind closed doorways, which makes it very surreal, particularly for somebody who loves interacting with the group.
But the robust half is the journey. The motive Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A or Premier League can restart is as a result of they’re enjoying inside a rustic. When it involves tennis, how are you going to have athletes from all around the world coming in for a event?
That’s the controversy across the US Open in New York. The organisers are additionally considering of a smaller doubles draw (24 groups from 64) whereas eliminating the singles qualifiers.
Global journey goes to be very restrictive in order that’s the first concern. Even the way in which it’s deliberate—play 64 singles draw and 24 doubles draw. What is that? You can’t give (rating) factors to that. That format, in my view, is simply catered for native gamers. And I’m ready to see the rise of Covid-19 in America due to the protests in assist of George Floyd, which is such an essential factor for the time being as a result of each life does matter.
So do you see the skilled tour returning this yr?
I don’t. I believe even the start of 2021 is in jeopardy for the time being.