Leander Paes is the most successful tennis player in India.
Leander Paes is the most successful tennis player in India. The 47-year-old’s hunger to represent the country and put the sport and the nation on a pedestal on the world stage is something that sets him apart.
Considered to be one of India’s best doubles players, Leander Paes holds the record for the most number of Davis Cup wins for India. Adding his 18 Grand Slam titles to the tally, Leander Paes is easily the poster boy for Indian tennis.
Leander Paes has been a recipient of awards like the Padma Bhushan, Padma Shri and Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna award during an illustrious career, spanning three decades.
The Indian tennis star and the Olympics go back a long way. Leander Paes has participated in seven Summer Games. He is the only tennis player in the world to achieve the feat.
Just one medal in seven Olympic appearances does not read well for a man of Paes’ stature. However, the fact that the country has only won just one medal in tennis outlines the importance and the longevity of the medal Leander Paes has won. It also goes on to show the enormity of the task.
Leander Paes, a multiple Grand Slam winner, has joined Sporjo, an online sports education company, as a strategic advisor and an ambassador in his quest to give something back to the sport.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Leander Paes shared his thoughts on the sport in India, his new venture and more.
Excerpts from an interview with Leander Paes
You wanted the Tokyo Olympics to be a farewell but the pandemic threw everything awry. What is next for Leander Paes?
As a person I believe in people. The business of Leander Paes is to focus on the community. Whether it’s through my business Flying Man Ventures or through Sporjo, my aim is to use my platform to help build a healthier nation and a healthier community. As I transition from professional sport into business, sports are the natural vehicle for me and so is education. It is my hope to be able to use both through a platform such as Sporjo to create a difference in the community.
The upcoming Indian tennis players, barring a few, have not made it beyond the ITF and the Challengers.. Where do you think Indian players are lacking and why haven’t we belonged at the top stage for so many years?
When Mahesh and I and Sania were winning Grand Slams, we were at the top of the world stage. In my own humble way over the last three decades, I have made Indian tennis a mainstream sport. I feel right now that the standards could be better but having said that I have immense respect for the players out there who, on their own families’ sponsorship, guidance and support, go out and compete.
I have tremendous respect for all those sporting athletes who persevere and work so hard to conduct their careers on the international stage. Having played internationally for three decades I know how tough it is to compete at that level.
However, I must say that the ecosystem is changing. Khelo India has made a great difference, Kiren Rijiju who is the pioneer of that has made a great difference, I have great belief in Anurag Thakur now to come in as Sports Minister and make a big difference.
What is Leander Paes’ assesment of the facilities, the players and the grassroots in India in the last decade? Have we grown by leaps and bounds or are we still taking baby steps?
In the last decade the improvement has been marginal but over the last three decades from when I was a junior to now, I see the sports infrastructure growing leaps and bounds. I also see the knowledge of fitness, of diet also growing leaps and bounds.
What is essential now, I believe, are professional trainers who have great knowledge to be able to go to tier 2, tier 3 cities. They can get into the grassroots of India, which is where the talent lies in my humble opinion – to not only spot talent but also nurture talent to build champions.
Leander Paes with the founder of Sporjo G Srinivvasan and investor Punit Balan.
How do you think Sporjo will change the sports eco-system in the future?
There is an ever growing need to educate parents, children and individuals on how jobs in sports can be a viable career option. Currently there exists a lack of awareness and information on the subject.
India’s performance at the Olympics has put sports at the center of discussions again. Such results are a big boost to showcase to the population in general that sports are a great career choice – be it as an athlete or as any other professional in the sports arena. It’s not just about winning medals. It’s about creating jobs and opportunities in our country.
Sporjo will focus on education, training and employability across all age categories, within the sports industry to do just that. Enabling and empowering the community with the correct information and tools to not only follow their passion but also be job ready is what we hope to achieve. We aim to aid and create an ecosystem that breeds successful individuals in the field of sports across all mediums to take India to the next level.