'Young veteran' Leander Paes eager to take his 18 Grand Slam count to 20!
A lot of muscle, sinew and sweat goes into a career that spans as long as the one of Leander Paes. The tennis ace has admirably kept his fitness at the top with regular changes and modifications, to be on the top of his game for the past 25 years!
Although he had a bit of an off-colour season in 2016 with no Tour-level titles, his energy and enthusiasm has not to be bogged down as he is constantly working on himself and his body to sustain himself and gunning for more glory, with a new target of 20 Grand Slams.
Surprisingly, Paes has never suffered a major injury which has stopped him in his tracks, with only the rare minor niggles. He works hard on his fitness in order to be at par with the younger generation, and thus hones his body and inspires himself to etch his name in the history books every now and then.
But how does the 43-year-old youngster manage to attain this level of supreme fitness? It’s not just the undying passion for the game which keeps him going, but greater secrets, the roots of which lie in a hardcore diet and a strict fitness regime. Over the years, he has amended and improved his training in accordance to his age and body.
“Now it’s very different than how I used to train 20 years ago,” Paes, winner of 18 Grand Slam titles, said in an interview to the Press Trust of India. “20 years ago I was trying to get lot of muscle memory, which means I had to hit 50-75 serves every day. Sometime kick serves on the ad court sometimes slice serves on the deuce court. Sharp serve down the T and a low backhand volley. I had to get 3 million repetitions into all the parts of the body, so they remember it. So that when I am under pressure, that repetition happens automatically. Muscle memory means when I am playing Wimbledon semifinals, and I am under pressure serving at 4-5, you don’t choke,” he explained.
What’s changed for Paes
So what has changed now, how has he evolved? “Now I have to protect myself from overuse injuries. There is a lot more emphasis on fitness and rehab. When I was younger I was putting seven hours on the court a day. Now, I am putting less hours on the court, so that I protect certain joints, like the rotator cuffs, the knees, the lower back,” he said.
“In 28 years, I would have hit 7-8 million times each stroke, so the same rotator cuff tendon, you don’t want to hurt. The same patella tendon, you don’t want to hurt by playing more on hard courts, the same hamstring, lower-back, the location of vertebrate. Lot of tennis strokes come from core and you don’t want to injure that.”
Paes credits his father for his longevity
To his credit, he has a team of people backing him up with their motivation, planning and efforts which include his father, Vece Paes as well.They have played an integral role in extending the longevity of his career. “My father plans my fitness and he always changes the program every three months. Bob Carmichael and Rick Leach (his coaches) are instrumental in who I am as an athlete. So my father, trainer Sanjay Singh and two coaches modified my training, kept me injury free.”
He added that he is blessed to have his father play a major role in his playing caree,r primarily because of his athletic past and the fact that he is a doctor as well. His mother being a former athlete has also played a major role in his life, helping him grow and mature as a sportsperson.
“My father (Vece Paes) is a doctor and an athlete, this combination is luck. He educated me on how to enhance body naturally. My athleticism, mental training has come from home. We talk about sport at the dining table at home. I had champion parents, they taught me how to handle pressure and how to get form back,” he said.
The Paes diet
Paes had turned vegetarian early in his life to assist his training regime only to alter the diet and include fish when he was 25, in order to gain good fat content. He revealed the reason why he became a vegetarian and his eating habits.
“I used to eat everything. When I was 12 in Chennai I had fitness coach Dave O’Meara. He converted me into a vegetarian by teaching me the effects of meat in the body. I was veggie for 13 years. He said, ‘It’s gonna be sluggish’. If you see the big cats, they have to sleep whole day to digest the meat. Meat takes 72 hours to digest. Vegetables, and fruit, the fiber digests much faster," said the tennis legend.
He elaborated further on his diet, “I loved the result of being vegetarian. But my body was not getting Omega 3. I was not getting the zinc, magnesium, and the iron in my body. Because my fat percentage was low, every time I played a match that was over in three sets, which means over two hours, I was getting full body cramps. So I started taking fish, I was only taking salmon. I was allowing good fats but no bad fats like ghee and butter. Even today I eat a lot of fish.”
Athletes should use their god-given talent, says Paes
Copying may be the finest form of flattery, but when it comes to tennis, Paes is of the opinion that each player is talented in their own right and does not have to emulate anyone else.
“Everyone has different God-given skills. Roger Federer has technique, Rafa Nadal has power, Novak Djokovic has flexibility and mind. Michael Chang never tried serving like Stefan Edberg but his speed was great, modeled his training to enhance his God-given talent.”
Paes’ off-court life
Apart from the racquet, ball and court, Paes fancies the element of speed! “I love bikes and riding off, feeling the wind up against your face. I love speed. But you have to be careful. I have two (bikes) now but over the years I had 7-8 bikes,” he said without mentioning the names.
Signing off, he let the readers in, on his mantra to remain calm and composed. Reading! “I read to de-stress. I like autobiographies, I don’t like fiction. I have read many scriptures as well,” he said.