Born Goa, 17 June 1973
Leander’s father, Dr. Vece Paes had won a bronze medal at the 1972 Olympics at Munich as a member of the Indian Hockey team. That medal had always inspired him, and he had dreamed that he would win an Olympic medal for himself one day. As he stood on the podium at the Stone Mountain Park in Atlanta, having won a bronze in the Tennis singles event of the 1996 Olympics, his eyes went moist, thinking of his father’s medal. An Indian had won an individual medal at the Olympics after 44 years.
Paes’ was a wild card entry in the men’s singles at Atlanta. And there was an array of star players entered in the event, with Paes ranked a lowly 127 on the ATP charts. Andre Agassi, Reneberg, Nicholas Pereira, Enquist, Furlan, Meligeni and a host of others were better known, but then nobody had reckoned with Paes’ motivational mix of country, flag and national anthem that helps him raise his game to extraordinary levels. It needed a player of the calibre of Agassi to stop him from striking gold, but not without a fight!
Leander Adrian Paes was born in Goa, but grew up in Calcutta (Now Kolkata). With sports in his genes - his mother was a Basketball player – he began playing Tennis at the age of five. He was picked by BAT, the Tennis Academy in Chennai run by the Amritraj family for specialized training while he was still in school, and was there till he won the Junior Wimbledon title in 1990. Having attained the World No. 1 junior ranking, he turned professional in 1991.
Paes started playing Davis Cup matches for India in 1990. He has always been inspired by the tricolour, and has won many crucial ties for India on his own. Otherwise, his performance in individual events, but for that bronze at Atlanta, has been nothing to write home about. His best performance at any Grand Slam event has been the entry into third round at the US Open in 1997.
Paes, in partnership with Mahesh Bhupathi, has however already achieved enough in doubles play to gain immortality. The duo teamed up to win the 1999 doubles titles at the French Open and at Wimbledon, and entered the finals of the other Grand Slam events, a feat that had not been accomplished within a calendar year since McGregor and Sedgman reached all four finals in 1952, winning three. They attained the No. 1 ranking in doubles in 1999, but separated for a short while due to a misunderstanding. They however came back strongly in 2000 to win the World Championship, back-to-back titles on the US Clay Court circuit and the French Open, a second time, despite being unseeded to defeat the Czech pair of Petr Pala and Pavel Vizner, ranked No. 2 in the world.
But just when things were looking up for the duo in early 2002, Paes and Bhupathi have again agreed to a parting of ways and will play together only in Davis Cup matches for India.