It was way back in 2003. I was only eight years old and had just gathered a tinge of interest in sports. While reading the sports edition of the newspaper, my eyes went on an article which read “Paes and Martina conquer Wimbledon”. I asked my parents “Who are these two people holding this glorious trophy?”. They said “This woman is one of the greatest tennis players of all time and this guy is one of India’s greatest sportsmen”. Since then, I have been keenly following a number of your matches and have become an avid fan of yours.
On knowing about your exit from the Men’s doubles at theRio Olympics at the hands of the Polish duo of Lukasz Kubot and Marcin Matkowski, I was heartbroken as an Indian and an avid fan of yours. A player of your stature did not deserve such an outcome and I sincerely hope this won’t be your last outing at the Olympics as there are millions of tennis fanatics who would be dying to watch you play at Tokyo four years from now.
Representing your nation in seven Olympics is not easy. It requires hard work, grit and most importantly determination. Your determination has made you one of the greatest sportsmen our country has ever produced. You have been one of our country’s greatest ambassadors in all of sports, not just tennis. Your bronze medal performance at Atlanta two decades ago has been the base on which India’s Olympic performances in individual sports have improved significantly. You inspired our country’s sportsmen and instilled an enormous amount of self-belief amongst them.
Your volley and brilliant drop shots combined with your versatility to play as per the situation of the match makes you a very dangerous player but your biggest attribute has been your fighting spirit. This has been the reason behind your consistency and longevity.
Resilient, hardworking and passionate are possibly the best three words to describe you based on your extensive career. The journey began more than three decades ago in 1985 when you trained at the Britannia Amritraj training academy under Dave O’Meara. Five years on, came the junior Wimbledon Championships followed by the junior US Open Championships a year later. You gave India its first individual medal in the Olympics in nearly four and a half decades by beating Fernando Meligeni to clinch the bronze in Atlanta.
You soon became a tennis sensation in the coming years by winning several doubles tournaments before the news of you being diagnosed with neurocysticercosis made our jaws drop and many started wondering if we could see our star in a tennis court again. You fought back and thirteen years on, you have established yourself among the all-time greats; having won an additional 12 grand slams since your recovery.
Being one of the greatest Doubles players ever, you deserve an Olympic medal in Doubles and had almost won it at Athens in 2004 before going down fighting to the Croatian pair of Mario Ancic and Ivan Ljubicic.
People might say that your Doubles accolades have come because of your strong partners or lack of competition in Doubles tournaments but that’s wrong. They have come because your passion for the sport and your dedication towards your country.
In an earlier interview, you had mentioned that you are a soft target and that’s why people take potshots at you. Sir, you are anything but soft. Maintaining fitness and consistency for 25 years requires an immense amount of mental strength and you have been as solid as a rock throughout your career. You had obstacles along your way but you crushed them and I am sure you’ll crush many more obstacles that are about to come. You may have disappointed this time but that doesn’t change the legend you are. Only an exceptional sportsperson like you can entertain the possibility of representing a nation in the Olympics at the age of 47 when most people normally resort to coaching.
For your passion and patriotism, I salute you and hope to see you win many more Grand Slams and at Tokyo 2020, wrapping the Indian tricolor around your shoulder because a champion like you deserves a winning end to his career.
A lifelong fan.