Veteran Leander Paes says if he is still able to withstand the rigours of the physically demanding ATP tour, the credit goes to legendary Martina Navratilova, who transformed him into a fitness freak.
Navratilova, winner of an incredible 59 Grand Slam titles including 18 singles, teamed up with Paes in the latter part of her astonishing career. The two of her 10 mixed doubles Grand Slam trophies — Wimbledon and Australian Open in 2003 — came with Paes. She was the oldest player on Tour and was active when she was nearing 50.
“Navratilova taught us on how physical fitness was a pre-requisite. Navratilova taught me the importance of physical fitness and that is the reason I had such a long career,” said Paes, who is 46.
“She epitomises perseverance and the re-invention that an athlete can go through. Navratilova took fitness and gym work to a new level. To have played with Navratilova over three years and to be that close to her over time has helped me in my career, that at 46 I keep re-inventing myself, my training methods, my diets, and my fitness.”
Paes also had a successful pairing with Swiss great Martina Hingis and he had words of praise for her also. “Hingis taught me a lot about technique. Because I don’t consider myself a very talented tennis player, I am more of an athlete. I felt that playing with Hingis — her groundstrokes, technique, volley or just technique itself was phenomenal. Playing with her I used to practice hours and hours and the matches were just extension of practice sessions,” he said.
Talking about global tennis icon Roger Federer, Paes said it is amazing to see how the Swiss has re-invented himself to keep winning grand-slams. “This year the Australian Open is going to be unique. Roger Federer just announced that he will play the Olympics in 2020. I think for tennis fans around the world it is fantastic because there is always a question whether he is going to continue or not (playing),” Paes said in Mumbai.
He was speaking after Tennis Australia and Sony Pictures India Private Limited announced a three-year extension of their broadcast relationship at the Australian Open 2020 media launch.
Paes said that he has not decided on his goals for 2020. “I would find out in the next couple of days as to what my goals in 2020 are. For me I play for trophies (and) they are memories. Medals and trophies are memories that never go. For me to rewrite the history books, is what I have lived for. I had a very blessed career, so if I have another year in it… I get to another Olympics (it would be) wonderful, if I don’t still (it would be) wonderful,” he said.
In the over 20 minute conversation, Paes was asked about how does he approach an Olympic year, and he avoided giving a direct reply.
“You know the Olympics is away. I was born for the Olympics. Everything I dreamt of and wished to play for off-late is to play for our people. (If I am approached to play for our country), rest assured I will be there. As far as that goes, I have got the World Record for the most number of Olympics played but I think an eighth Olympics would be India’s record to actually make sure that we seal that record to play eight Olympics on the trot,” he said.