If you were glued to the TV like me for this year’s Australian Open, you may have noticed India’s Leander Paes competing. He was one of the oldest at the event, an 18-time major winner, and at 44 he is still going strong. He made it to the final 16 of the tournament with doubles partner Purav Raja. At 44, Paes is the oldest man in the Open era to reach the fourth round in a major. “It’s what keeps me going now, to rewrite the history books,” he said. “It’s fun. What else is there?”
I first started following him after he visited Sri Chinmoy a few times in New York. He was very soulful when he was around Sri Chinmoy and Sri Chinmoy was equally happy being with him as he was such an avid tennis player and fan himself. Paes received the “Lifting Up the World with a Oneness Heart Award” from Sri Chinmoy in August 2004.
In this program, the US-based Indian spiritual leader, who was a keen weightlifter, lifted large objects such as people on special lifting platforms. He lifted many icons of the world, including Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Ravi Shankar and they were often very moved by the spirituality that accompanied the process.
Paes’s career started early. In 1990 he debuted for India in Davis Cup at just 16 and he has just kept going. He’s won eight doubles and ten mixed doubles Grand Slam titles, and is the oldest man to have won a Grand Slam title. He holds a career Grand Slam in men’s doubles and mixed doubles, and achieved the rare men’s doubles/mixed doubles double at the 1999 Wimbledon tournament. His mixed doubles Wimbledon title in 2010 made him only the second man in history (after Rod Laver) to win Wimbledon titles in three decades.
He competed in consecutive Olympic appearances from 1992 to 2016, meaning he has been to seven Olympic Games. He took a bronze in the men’s singles event at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. With the Olympics only coming around every four years, it is a coveted trophy. Rumour has it some players would swap a slam for an Olympic medal.
He went through some tough times in 2003 when he was admitted to hospital after a series of dizzy spells with a suspected brain tumour. Grace descended though, and it was later found to be a parasitic infection. Not something pleasant, but it has a much better prognosis. A credit to his character, his then mixed doubles partner Martina Navratilova phoned and said she’d skip the upcoming US Open and wait until he got better before playing again.
While I am sure he would have preferred a title, Leander Paes has to consider this year’s Open a success. Let us hope he comes back next year.