Some heartburn, but passion brings Paes to Pune

Kirti Patil
Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Whether it is cricket or tennis—two sports that offer ample opportunity to earn living while playing and even after retirement as experts on television—the bug affects all.

Honourable exit is a rarity in Indian sports.
It takes a true sportsman’s spirit to realise one’s own expiry date as a player, still many keep pitching beyond their sell-by date is over.

In an individual sport though, a sportsperson has the liberty to stretch one’s career but when it comes to representing country in a multi-disciplinary event, emotions be rather kept aside.

Unfortunately, though those who touch legendary status during their playing days, even constant reminders from elders fail to cut ice, and it is not limited to only certain sports.

Whether it is cricket or tennis—two sports that offer ample opportunity to earn living while playing and even after retirement as experts on television—the bug affects all.

Take the case of Leander Paes, the only Indian tennis player who can boast of winning an Olympic medal. He is still active on the ATP Challenger doubles circuit with Purav Raja, but when it comes to ATP Tour event his current rankings do not cut ice to give him the stage he is used to or rather what he wishes for in the twilight of his career.

We all know the drama that transpired in 2016 ahead of choosing Indian tennis team for the Rio Olympic Games. While Rohan Bopanna qualified by virtue of his world rankings—he was in the top 10 before the cut-off date—and had the right to choose a partner, but Paes was forced upon him and the experiment backfired disastrously as none of them played with their heart in Rio. Without doubt, Paes was there to complete a milestone—of playing in his seventh Olympic Games after debuting in 1992 Barcelona Games.

Paes won his Olympic bronze in 1996 Atlanta and since then Grand Slam titles have come by, both in men’s doubles and mixed doubles also, but he needs to understand that his expiry date has long passed to be able to get into Team India.

Take the case of Vijay Amritraj. He may not have achieved as much as Paes on the Tour, but he is still a legend and still commands attention when he commentates on the sport from Wimbledon or from any other arena.

Amritraj is here in Pune as an expert commentator for Pune’s first ATP Tour event, and without a doubt, his words carry more wisdom than anyone in Indian tennis.

No wonder he recently commented that India needed to “look beyond Leander” if the country hopes to break into the World Group in Davis Cup.

In this given scenario, Paes, however, has a different idea about himself. Ahead of playing in the Tata Open, he expected to get appearance money as was paid to him for the last so many years when Chennai hosted this ATP tournament.

Apparently, the organisers of the Tata Open Maharashtra politely and firmly conveyed their “No” to Paes. He expected a hefty sum as was being paid to him by the Chennai organisers, who hosted this event for 21 long years since 1997.

Lo and behold, what does Paes do after the denial was made known to him?

The Kolkatan, now a resident of Mumbai, wonders why the Government of Maharashtra was spending as much on this tournament.

He expressed his angst soon after he was denied the appearance money when he got a chance to chat up with the Maharashtra Sports Minister Vinod Tawde at some function.

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