Becoming the most successful doubles player in Davis Cup history was historic, yet not the complete story of the legend that Leander Paes has become.
As important as that statistical accomplishment was the fact that, as on numerous previous occasions, he exhibited the guts that have brought him a brand of glory of which not too many other sportspersons can boast.
The odds were stacked against India when Rohan Bopanna and he went out for the “life saver” against a spirited Chinese pair. Paes had to serve when down a match-point and more than skill was required.
The 44-year-old summoned up the quality that has stamped him unique since when he first sported the national colours1990: he forced the match into a tie-breaker.
The rest is history, his courage inspired younger colleagues to win both reverse singles, and keep the Tricolour flying. Yet again, Leander Paes did not let India down.
His track record would testify to that sterling quality of turning defeat into victory. And remind sections of the team’s management that “you can’t keep a good man down”.
When Leander was recalled to the Indian squad some critics scoffed that he was being “accommodated” for sentimental reasons ~ being accorded the luxury of a crack at Italian Nicola Peitrangeli’s record, and there was a re-surfacing of personal dissent, animosities, even a threat of a pull-out.
Displaying the nerve of a true champion, the veteran did not allow anything to detract from the task at hand ~ winning the match to keep India alive. His personal aspiration was secondary, he taught Indian tennis a priceless lesson.
It is true that he is not as sharp as he was when in his prime, his place in the rankings is no longer commanding, yet those who dropped him the last time around had erred in not taking into reckoning his fighting qualities ~ particularly when representing the country.
He has ever exuded patriotism and nationalism, a reminder to the politicians who have denigrated those terms. Strange that so few of them have issued customary laudatory statements.
Yet Leander was noble, he stressed his gratitude to all those who have partnered him playing for the Davis Cup: which means as much to him as
Grand Slam titles and the many dollars earned on the circuit.
In recent years Leander’s relations with his “mates” have soured. The break-up of the “Lee-Hesh” combine has trickled over, Rohan Bopanna makes no secret of being unhappy when directed to play with him, even Sania Mirza has had her reservations.
Yet all of them would have to hail his latest success. True champions are made of “sterner stuff”. Obviously Leander’s career is winding down, retirement not far off. What will long be remembered is not his many wins, but that he never lost without a fight. His guts were his glory.