A few days after becoming the tennis player with most doubles victories in Davis Cup—43—and after playing for over 26 years on the professional tour, Leander Paes says he does not fear retirement.
“Not at all," he says. “If I hadn’t won an Olympic medal, but had all these Grand Slams and records, I would fear retirement. The day I won my Olympic medal (singles bronze in 1996), I could have stopped.
“At Stone Mountain, Atlanta, I could have given you my tennis racquet, my shoes and bag and said, I have emulated my dad, I can sit and have dinner with him now."
But he didn’t stop—for the next 22 years. “That’s because then, I hadn’t won a Grand Slam title yet," he says, laughing.
Paes partnered with Rohan Bopanna to beat Gong Mao Xin and Zhang Ze of China on Saturday and overtook Italian Nicola Pietrangeli’s 42-win figure. Since his Davis Cup debut in 1990 as a teenager, Paes has played 56 ties, with a win-loss record in singles and doubles at 91-35. He is one win behind Spain’s Manuel Santana to get to joint fourth in most total wins (singles and doubles) in Davis Cup.
But the soon-to-be 45-year-old says he does not have any future career targets yet, except perhaps a gold medal in doubles in the Tokyo 2020 which would be his eighth Olympics—the most for a tennis player.
“I am at an interesting part of my life and career right now because every day I wake up with a purpose to be the fittest and best I can be. But yet I am meandering through this journey of tennis. I know there will be a day—soon—when I wake up and say I am done," says Paes, dressed in a suit, at the Sofitel hotel in suburban Mumbai.
“Whether I stop at the top and say I have the world record, aur kya karne ka hai (what else is to be done) and stop. Whether I do it at Tokyo, that’s 28 years of Olympics… I will be 47 then. I (might) stop there or any day."
“Till now, I was playing for this record. Right now, I am playing to earn a living," says Paes, whose career earnings on the ATP tour have been nearly $8.5 million ($8,436,489) excluding endorsements.
India beat China 3-2 in Tianjin over the weekend and will next play Serbia in September in the Davis Cup World Group play-offs.
Paes adds that the new Davis Cup format—three sets per match instead of five—benefits him. “It has come at the perfect time. My experience goes a long way in this and I have a big advantage over youngsters now," says the 18-time Grand Slam winner who claims to have partnered with “111-112" different players in his career.
He finds solace in the daily routine, the mundaneness of it all. “I just wake up every morning do my yoga, stretching, running. I do my abs, my back, practice, come back from practice, eat breakfast, then sleep. I get back to chores and other work. In the afternoon, I go back (to the courts), do forehands, backhands, second serve, returns, down the line… Come back and do rehab. Then gym, track work, physio, icing, stretching…
“That routine people struggle with but I find happiness in its simplicity," says Paes, currently ranked world No.45 in doubles.