Letting go of Leander Paes
Leander Paes became a national icon when he won India its first individual Olympic medal in 44 years in 1996. He was dropped from the Davis Cup squad for the first time in 27 years earlier this month. A Mint analysis of Paes’ Davis Cup and Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) statistics shows why the news made the waves that it did.
Paes’s career win/loss ratio of 1.78 is better than the current top-ranked Indian doubles players, according to ATP data. Rohan Bopanna, who was selected instead of Paes in the Davis Cup, is second with 1.36. Divij Sharan, who has won and lost 28 matches each, is third.
Paes falls short, however, of global top players Mike Bryan and Bob Bryan. The 38-year-old twins have won more than thrice the matches they’ve lost. Finland’s Henri Kontinen also has a marginally higher win/loss ratio, at 1.89. According to the latest rankings (as on 10 April 2017), Kontinen is the top ranked doubles player, while the Bryans are tied at the third place. Paes is ranked 53 on the list.
Paes being dropped from the Davis Cup squad does not mean an end to his tennis career. However, Paes has left pretty large shoes to be filled in by those who would represent India in Davis Cup tournaments in the future. An analysis of Indian Davis Cup players based on data from the International Tennis Federation (ITF) shows that Paes has a win/loss ratio of 2.6 among all matches played (singles and doubles combined). This makes it the second-highest among Indian Davis Cup players. The analysis looked at those who had won at least 10 matches in the Davis cup, singles and doubles combined. The highest ratio is that of Shiv Prakash Misra, who won 18 games and lost only one. Misra made his Davis Cup debut in 1964, which explains why his name would not ring a bell among today’s followers of the game.
In the single’s format, Paes (48 wins, 22 losses) is third among Indian Davis Cup players behind Misra (13 wins, 1 loss) and Krishnan Ramanathan (50 wins, 19 losses).
Paes’ strength, however, is the doubles game. He has the highest number of wins there among all Indian players ever. He lost only 13 contests, compared to 42 victories. This gave him a win/loss ratio of 3.23. This is higher than any other player except his long-time doubles partner Mahesh Bhupathi (27 wins, 6 losses)
Paes also has a better Davis Cup record than he does otherwise in his career, which suggests that he has done better while playing for India than himself. These comparisons need to be read with the caveat that Davis cup opposition may be of a different calibre than other tournaments, as a number of top-ranked players choose to skip the tournament.
These headline numbers do not mean that Paes’s game has not suffered with age. His win/loss ratio started declining after the 1990s, and Bopanna, who replaced him in the Davis Cup squad, has been doing better over the last three years. Form after all, is not permanent like statistics.