NEW DELHI, April 7: A 16-year-old boy who began his Davis Cup journey in 1990, baptised with fire, has perched himself on a pedestal from where it will require a superhuman effort to displace him.
He is 44 now, with a world record 43 doubles wins in Davis Cup to his credit.
His contemporaries and even those who started their careers long after him have hung their racquets but Leander Paes continues to �re-invent� his game and add power in his legs to pull India through.
He did it today again and in the process earned a win which made him the most successful doubles player in the history of Davis Cup.
Serving at 5-6 in the decisive third set, he was down 0-30 � two points away from a defeat which would have embarrassed the nation � but he logged four points in a row to keep India in hunt and eventually, in the company of Rohan Bopanna, sealed the much-needed win.
It inspired the youngsters to produce reverse singles wins and in the end India was rejoicing a memorable win.
�What a fabulous motivation. It is great to achieve the world record. I dedicate this record to my father, my parents, my daughter Aiyana, to every single Davis Captain I had had and to every singles Davis Cup doubles partner I had and this world record belongs to India,� Paes told PTI in an exclusive interview after his historic win.
�I am so proud of being son of the soil and playing so long. Many many hard years of efforts, lots of ups and downs. I had to be very resilient,� he said, reflecting on his journey.
He is already the most decorated Indian tennis players with 18 Grand Slam titles. He has been showered with encomiums since he began his incredible journey and the honours of Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan fittingly came his way.
He has pulled off some incredible victories but struggled to qualify this record and what this means to him.
�It is difficult to put in words after this win from 0-2 down. I had to play three matches for 16 years � two singles and one doubles. And now to go out there as one of the senior-most players of the team to motivate the boys, I take this responsibility very seriously.
�I hope with this record I can inspire lots of youngsters in whichever field they play or work in to believe that we Indians can be the world beaters and I can prove that Indians can be world champions,� was all he could say.
And he is in no mood to retire. He appears even more fired up.
�When it comes to playing for country, I am always available. I feel I am still able to motivate the boys and go out there, bring out the best in them in training and at the same to get that doubles point. It�s such a crucial point as you saw in this tie. We were down 0-2 down and it could have been anybody�s game. It was a team effort. It explains itself.�
Going back in time, Paes mentioned about the 24-match unbeaten streak he weaved with Mahesh Bhupathi in Davis Cup.
�Winning those matches, staying undefeated is something very special. Mahesh and myself always had that respect for each other for what we achieved in tennis. Whenever it has come to playing for country we have put our differences aside and put the country first and that�s what I respect about him.�
The game of tennis is changing. It was already tough being alone on the Tour and it is becoming more and more brutal with the players taking physical fitness to insane levels. So what Paes thinks about the modern day game?
Paes cited the example of Swiss great Roger Federer who has made several changes to his game to not only stay relevant but still dominate the tennis courts. � PTI