Leander Paes has insisted that he will remain available for Davis Cup selection after the upcoming tie against New Zealand in Pune from February 3-5. According to recent media reports, the All India Tennis Association (AITA) has asked Paes to consider retirement from the team competition to make way for younger and higher ranked players. However, speaking to ESPN in Melbourne after his first round exit from the men's doubles, Paes replied "100%, yes" when asked if he would stay available.
"I don't think there's ever any assurance in terms of getting selected or not getting selected," Paes said. "There is a need for classiness, patience and letting the racquet do the talking. What I will say is that it's the greatest honour to play for my countrymen and my flag and that will not stop. If I'm the best man for the job and I'm called to play, I will play. No matter under who and under what."
After the tie against New Zealand, Mahesh Bhupathi will take over from Anand Amritraj as India's non-playing captain. Paes and Bhupathi have had a torrid relationship over the years. Despite winning three Grand Slam titles together, reaching three other finals and capturing the number one ranking, Paes and Bhupathi had a series of high-profile skirmishes over the years. Paes is convinced that despite their history, he will have no problems with Bhupathi at the helm, replying, "100%" when asked if he was happy to play under him.
"I played with him, got him to win a Grand Slam," Paes said. "We've won Grand Slams together. There are no egos, there's no nonsense involved. The best man for that job needs to go forward. Whether I'm picked or not, that remains to be seen."
In a decision that caused a fair bit of controversy, the AITA left out India's highest ranked individual doubles player at the moment, Rohan Bopanna and picked Paes instead, for the tie against New Zealand. While no official would say so on record, it is believed that Paes has been selected so he can break Italy's Nico Pietrangeli's record of most doubles wins in Davis cup history. Both men are locked at 42 wins apiece at the moment. When asked if he would consider retiring if he does indeed break the record in Pune, Paes only said, "Depends."
"I play for records, I play to put india on the global map in my profession," he said. "I have to look after me. There's a whole lot of talking going on, people are saying a lot of things, but I just have to look after me. It's the greatest joy that I have, to play tennis and play for the country and play in Grand Slams and travel the world and motivate people. If I don't get picked, that's their choice. If I do get picked, that's their choice too. But when I do get picked, they know what they're going to get - they're going to get 100% of Leander Paes' effort."
Although Paes has endured a lean patch in recent years, especially in the men's doubles where his last tournament win came two years ago in Auckland, he remains confident of bouncing back up in the rankings. Despite having lost three of his first four matches with new partner Andre Sa of Brazil, Paes claims to have started the new season with "new vigour and passion." Non-committal about whether he will play in 2018, Paes says that he is confident that despite being 43, he can return to Grand Slam winning ways. His immediate focus for the next week and and a half is the mixed doubles where he will team up with Martina Hingis. The pair have won four mixed doubles Slams in the last couple of years including the 2015 Australian Open.
"Patience is of the essence," he says. "It's not rocket science to go out there and win Grand Slams. The few of us that have done it, time and time again over a span of 30 years (he won the junior Wimbledon Championship in 1990), we know what it takes to win there. And being a team sport, you need the whole team to come on that same belief, that same journey, that same effort and hard work. And if you put in that time and hard work and focus on it, you're going to win. It's been three years since I've won a men's doubles Grand Slam but if you're asking me if I believe I can win another men's doubles Slam, 100%. I'd love to see what other people have to say once I do.
"I've got a great partner in mixed doubles. Martina is a thorough professional, she's hungry, she has experience. Not that Andre is not, he's hungry and really wants to win, but the experience makes a difference. And I think, with Martina, it's a lot of understanding that you don't really have to speak of. It's a partnership that's about 16 months old, the last 14 months of which we've won 4 Grand Slams and also over 3 years - we've played for the Washington Kastles in World Team Tennis and we're undefeated there."