Born to a Goan father and a Bengali mother, coupled with the fact that he was brought up in football-crazy Kolkata, Indian tennis star Leander Paes can definitely be an authority on football and all things World Cup.
No, there aren’t any typos here. The evergreen Paes, holder of innumerable records in the sport of tennis, is a self-confessed football fanatic.
Speaking to The Statesman on the sidelines of the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Awards night here, the 45-year-old doubles legend had this to say when asked if he was following the 2018 FIFA World Cup, “Very much, Viva Brazil!”
“The city I grew up in, with my unique parentage, it’s impossible for me not to follow the beautiful game!”
The quadrennial extravaganza has already given the world a few shocks so far, with most big guns failing to fire, but Paes’ loyalties lie with two nations, separated by the Atlantic Ocean, that speak the same language.
“Portugal and Brazil all the way man,” smiles Leander as he gushes of his admiration for a certain No.7: “Great start for Portugal in Russia, with a creditable draw against Spain and a win against Morocco. Cristiano Ronaldo just had to remind everyone what a true champion he is, didn’t he?”
When pressed for the team he expects to go all the way, Paes, renowned for his speed on the net, promptly picks Brazil as the eventual champions.
“They haven’t got in their stride as yet,”the 18-time Slam champion admits as he continues, “Plus, Neymar is coming back from injury so I expect them to take a few games to really come into their own.”
“Let’s not forget, it was a tough World Cup for them, four years ago. Still, I feel it will be their tournament,” Paes asserts with a wry grin.