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Vol. XXX No. 6, July 1-15, 2020

Leander Paes and His Strong Bond with Chennai

by Partab Ramchand

Leander Paes turned 47 on June 17 and at a time like this, I am reminded of our first meeting. In 1988, I entered the Madras Christian College High School campus in Madras which housed the Britannia Amritraj Tennis (BAT) programme courts. Chief coach Dave O’Meara greeted me warmly and in the course of our chat, he pointed out to a 15-year-old practicing on one of the courts and informed me that he was a new recruit from Calcutta and was regarded as a player of much promise being the son of former hockey international Vece Paes. When O’Meara introduced us, he came across as a cultured, well-behaved lad but even then, one couldn’t mistake his hunger to taste success.

Though he was born in Calcutta, Paes has a strong connection with Madras that is Chennai. It was at the BAT courts that he really honed his skills and developed the game that ultimately brought him 54 ATP Tour doubles titles and 18 Grand Slam doubles titles – eight men’s doubles and ten mixed doubles. He has achieved a career Grand Slam in both events winning the four majors at least once completing the feat when he won the mixed doubles title at the French Open in 2016 when he was 43. He also holds the record for most Davis Cup doubles wins with 43 victories, surpassing the Italian great Nicola Pietrangeli’s tally of 42. His mixed doubles title at Wimbledon in 2010 made him only the second man after the legendary Rod Laver to win Wimbledon titles in three decades.

It was while he was at BAT that he first attracted international attention by winning the junior Wimbledon title in 1990, emulating the feats of two other greats from the city Ramanathan Krishnan (1954) and Ramesh Krishnan (1979). He also won the US Open junior title the same year, rising to No. 1 in the world rankings.

Even as he rose to become one of the greatest doubles players in the history of the sport, Paes always maintained his ties with this city and regularly participated in the Chennai Open winning the doubles titles six times between 1997 and 2012, five of them with Mahesh Bhupathi and once with Janko Tipsarevic. It was also at the Nungambakkam stadium that he helped orchestrate arguably the greatest comeback in Indian tennis history. In the World Group play-off tie against Brazil in 2010, India were down 0-2 after the first day’s singles and virtually out. It was Paes, along with Bhupathi, who commenced India’s fightback with a victory in the doubles and inspired by the senior pair, SomdevDevvarman and Rohan Bopanna won both the reverse singles to complete an astonishing 3-2 victory which saw India back in the prestigious Davis Cup World Group.

Paes has been effusive in his praise of this city. “I love Chennai,” he has said many times. “It was here, after all, that I grew up and developed my game, and this city holds very happy memories for me.” He has always had generous words to say about O’Meara and Mrs. Maggie Amritraj who was the chief administrator at BAT.

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