After 24 years of a professional career that includes 17 Grand Slams and an Olympic medal in singles, India’s evergreen tennis ace Leander Paes’ hunger has not diminished one bit. The 42-year-old is gearing up to enter the record books as the only tennis player to participate in seven Olympics, when the mega quadrennial event will be staged at Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
During a media interaction where the Kolkata-born champion was announced as the face of the IDBI Federal Life Insurance Kolkata Marathon to be held on March 6, 2016, Paes said that he is extremely motivated to perform well at the Rio Olympics.
“I am preparing for my seventh Olympics next year. It will give me a chance to create a world record as the only tennis player to play in seven Olympics. When you play for the flag, it gives you greatest joy. I am so driven to get another medal after the 1996 singles bronze medal,” said Leander.
The Padma Bhushan awardee also said that he took three and a half years to prepare for high altitude training to help his lungs get ready for Atlanta in 1996. Having played in six other Olympics, he knows fully well how to be in peak fitness during the week of the Olympics.
The former doubles World No. 1 has won three Slam titles in mixed doubles this season – at the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open – with Martina Hingis. When asked about his preference for the team that should be sent to Rio, he simply replied: “May the best team be put forward.”
Leander also said that as a son of the soil, it is his duty to give something back to the city where he was born and grew up in. He revealed that he intends to have a sports centre of excellence in the City of Joy to nurture young talent in the future.
About his association with running, the tennis champion said that his passion for playing comes from the city of his birth and it is only natural that he is associated with the ninth edition of the Kolkata Marathon. Leander stressed that sport is for quality living and it helps to forge friendship and camaraderie among people. Being the face of the largest marathon in eastern India, Paes said that he will try his best to encourage youngsters to come and run.
“One cannot emphasise the importance of good health enough, and with running, you can simply just get up and go! I’m proud to be a part of the Kolkata Marathon in my home city, and urge people to come out in great numbers,” said Paes, adding that corporate support is essential for sports to flourish.
When asked about his favourite marathons, Leander stuck to the New York Marathon because it courses through the beautiful landscape of Manhattan. He also said that the Boston Marathon has his full support after the race fell prey to a terrorist attack in 2013.
Leander will begin his 2016 season at the Chennai Open where he is expected to pair up with Marcel Granollers of Spain. At next month’s Australian Open, he will team up with Frenchman Jeremy Chardy in men’s doubles and with Martina Hingis in mixed doubles.