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Biofile Leander Paes Interview

By Scoop Malinowski

Status: Five-time Olympian for India (1992-2008). Winner of 18 Grand Slam doubles and mixed doubles titles. Winner of 55 career ATP doubles titles and one ATP singles title (Newport ’98). Achieved a world No. 1 doubles ranking in 1999.

Ht: 5-9 1/2 Wt: 170

DOB: June 17, 1973 in Calcutta, India.

Childhood Heroes: “Rod Laver. Muhammad Ali. Pele. And Mother Theresa.”

Nicknames: “Speedy, Tiger, Mogli -from The Jungle Book.”

Leisure Activities/Hobbies: “I play every single sport. You name it and I play it because I grew up in a family full of Olympians. My mother (Jennifer) captained the Indian basketball team. My dad played field hockey in 1972. So needless to say I play hockey, basketball, cricket, soccer, scuba diving, rugby, you name it, I do it.”

Favorite Movies: “Dances With Wolves. The Natural. Bourne Identity. Great actors - being a James Bond freak - Sean Connery comes to mind. I also watch a lot of Indian movies. Amitabh Bachan is also one of my favorite actors.”

Musical Tastes: “R&B, soul, jazz. I play a bit of guitar so obviously Eric Clapton, Sting and Phil Collins.”

First Job: “A tennis player.”

First Car: “That would be a 2000 BMW 528i with special wheels and sun roof.”

Childhood Dream: “I wanted to be the best tennis player in India. And I wanted to have an Olympic medal. And I wanted to have the best Davis Cup record in the world.”

Favorite Meal: “It would have to be southern Indian with rice, rasam (a broth you put in the rice), with chicken and chettinad from Kerala – that’s the region of India where it’s from. It’s a very spicy food.”

Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: “Haagen Dazs mint chocolate chip.”

First Tennis Memory: “I was playing back home in Calcutta with my dad. And the best thing that I liked about tennis is that I could spend time with my dad on the court. It was basically my two hours of his undivided attention which was magic for me.”

Pre-Match Feeling: “Before a match I basically just cleanse my mind of any thought, any direction, any events that have happened during the day or the night before. I leave everything that I walked into the locker room with, out of my mind. And then I just leave my thoughts blank, with just a few tactical thoughts. And then I let my mind react. I let my mind be instinctive. I let my mind control my body. And just let all that muscle memory come in. And breathe the air slowly, take in the flavors of the court. Just feel those sweat beads coming down me and let my muscles roll. And I know that once I find my rhythm, which is basically what I was looking for, if I find my rhythm on a certain day, it’ll be hard for anyone to beat me.”

Greatest Sports Moment: “Standing on the podium in Atlanta (’96) with Agassi on one side and Sergi Bruguera on the other – with my (bronze) medal around my neck. And my dad and the whole family in the crowd.”

Most Painful Moment: “In Athens, not standing on the podium, knowing that I was playing for a gold (in doubles with Bhupathi) in my fourth Olympics. And I lost that match after having a break point at 14-all in the third. And Mario Ancic, the Croatian, picked up a half-volley, passed me, passed my racquet, found the baseline, which caught the back of the baseline and was about a quarter-of-an-inch in.”

Closest Tennis Friends: “I’m fairly close with a lot of the Czech guys and I have a lot of friends on the Tour. I mean, I’ve played through about three generations of players. So it would be hard to single out anyone. But I have many friends on the Tour, I enjoy each personality. That’s what our sport stands for.”

Funniest Players Encountered: “David Rikl has a great sense of humor. Jonas Bjorkman – his mimicry is magic. The way he can mimic and mime different athletes, it’s a lot of fun.”

Toughest Competitors: “Andre Agassi. He was definitely one of the fiercest competitors. He’s basically the epitome of what an athlete stands for.”

Funny Tennis Memory: “I was a little, awkward, 17-year-old on the Tour. I turned pro very young (in ’91). And one of my first matches I was playing in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida and I remember the whole third set. There was a lady chanting out something but I couldn’t quite understand because I was so concentrating on my game. And when I came off the court after a long, three-set battle that I won, she says, ‘Didn’t you hear me?’ I said, ‘What were you saying?’ She said, ‘I was screaming out to you, Your shorts are torn!! So why don’t you take them, give them to me and I’ll sew them for you?’ So I just laughed and she sewed the shorts and washed them and I managed to play in them the next day. So that was pretty hilarious in the way she did that [smiles].”

Last Book Read: “Shantaram. It’s a book on Gregory David Roberts, an Australian convict who escaped prison in Melbourne and he’s come to India, worked in the slums of Bombay not even 100 yards from where I lived. He became a doctor there, he brought his heart and soul into India and made a lot of friends and admirers. Johnny Depp just bought the book rights to make a movie out of that book.”

Favorite Players To Watch: “Cliched…Djokovic, Nadal, Federer.”

Inspiration: “It’s always been Jimmy Connors. Now at this stage of my career, it’s about setting new goals, setting new targets, keep raising the bar to see how far I can push the history books. That’s a joy for me. It’s a beautiful game we play.”

People Qualities Most Admired: “Humility. Honesty. Cleanliness. And spirituality.”

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  • Sid Bachrach · November 26, 2010 at 6:23 am

    Would be interesting to see if he got any guidance when he was starting out on the tour from Vijay Amitraj or either of the Krishnans, who played so well.

  • Dan markowitz · November 26, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    I like this one lot. Leander is a class guy. I do think, that while biofiles are interesting and give a glimpse into a player’s psyche, it’d be nice to expand on the format sometimes. Like when pars says he values spiritually, I’d like to know what he means by that.

  • Sakhi · December 1, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    Paes is both loved and hated in India. He’s not as robustly involved in tennis outreach as his pal, Bhupathi and is known equally for his philandering (a good old-fashioned word) and his upcoming foray into a racy Bollywood film. Glad to see him and Bhupathi playing doubles once again. We look forward to the Indian Express forging ahead again.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 1, 2010 at 10:22 pm

    Hard to imagine Paes being “hated”, he is such a positive person and positive figure in Indian tennis, a good clean sportsman, no controversies. Hard to believe he can be a “hated” figure.

  • Sakhi · December 2, 2010 at 4:44 am

    hi there–I don’t mean “hated” as in reviled. I mean he’s a figure that generates very strong emotions from folks because even though he is a local sports hero, he’s carved out a very individual trajectory for his career at the expense of national interests etc (if you really want to follow this story, then look back to the davis cup history in india where players staged a mini mutiny and refused to serve under the captaincy of Paes because they disagreed with his choices)—hence the mixed love/hate metaphor. Paes, like most Indian sportsman, is a consummate performer and in a country that reveres cricket more than tennis, he’s had to work extra hard to prove his worth and has done so exceedingly well.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 2, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    I see what you’re saying. Kind of like, though of course not to the same extremes, like an Agassi, very popular and respected but also many controversial aspects about his career.



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