Indian tennis champion and one of the best double payer, Leander Paes will be featuring in an Olympic event for a record seventh time in Rio 2016. The Tennis veteran will be chasing Gold again in Rio as his enthusiasm and zeal for the sport remains unquestionable. Paes’ Olympic stint started in the year 1992 at the Barcelona Olympics. Since then he has been a part of six Olympics now.
The Tennis’s star won his first Olympic bronze medal in 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He also got a chance to share the podium with Andre Agassi — who won gold that year. Paes has already won 18 grand slams in men’s doubles and mixed doubles. his partnership with Martina Hingis has been even more fruitful, as the pair won four grand slams together.
Leander shared his memories in his own words as part of ITF Olympic Book -
"It feels like it was just last evening. In the semifinals against [Andre] Agassi I had torn the ligaments between my wrist and my elbow and for 24 hours I was in a cast between the semifinals and the bronze medal match. I had two set points and I hurt myself really bad. And the trainer came out and said, “You’re done, you can’t play any more.” And I looked him dead in the eye and said, “Strap me up and let me out there.”
I went out, a bit crazy at the time, but when the adrenaline is pumping and you’re playing at such a big moment for a country like India where you have 1.3 billion responsibilities, you tend to put your country before you. That’s what I do. After losing to Agassi, and after being in that cast for 24 hours, it was the first time in an Olympics in tennis that you had a play-off for the bronze medal. On the morning I couldn’t even hit a ball. I was in a lot of pain. My whole wrist was swollen. They cut the cast off and then they let me out there. I was down a set, I’m playing Fernando Meligeni from Brazil, one of my best friends on the tour.
And when I was staring down the barrel of the gun, a set down, 0-1, 30-40, a very strange thing happened. I went to serve, and butterflies have always been my lucky charm. I had a butterfly come up and sit right on top of my racket and I took the butterfly and put him on the side of the fence. When I came back to serve the whole stadium started cheering, even the Brazilians were cheering. When I ame back to serve again he came back and sat on top of my racket again and I kind of got a message. From that moment on, for 45 minutes, I didn’t feel a thing. I just went into a trance. Then I was erving for the match in the third set, I came out of the trance. I suddenly felt a shooting pain right through my arm and through my whole elbow. It hurt so bad I had tears in my eyes. And then the last six points that we played I was in so much pain. When I finally won, when I hit that last serve and his return sailed long, I just looked over to my father, he’s also an Olympic medal winner, he won his in 972 in field hockey, and that was in Munich when the Israeli and Palestinian trouble happened. My mom was with him because my mom played for India in basketball. During those four days after the Games were shut down in ’72 I was conceived. So I am basically an Olympic child. I’ve lived for the Olympics. I’ve lived to emulate what my dad has done. (He won) bronze in field hockey. The Olympics to me has been a life calling.
I remember that Andre’s dad, who is also an Olympic boxer, when I lost to Andre in the semis, came over to our box and sat with my dad through the whole match. They went back and forth. To me that camaraderie is the Olympics, to have 10,000 athletes who have worked their whole lives to represent themselves there. It’s not just every four years – it’s not just one Olympics – you’ve dedicated your whole life to this.
There were so many people at the airport it was nuts. There was a barricade all the way from the airport to the city, the streets were lined with people, just packed, probably like 12, 13 deep. I remember I skipped a tournament to go back to India to share that medal with the President, the Prime Minister, the people and the country.
I was one of the first Indians to win a medal since independence and now since then we’ve got shooters that have won, boxers that have won. I helped open the door which feels nice."