A packed Kastles Stadium at The Wharf watches the finals of the World Team Tennis on 28 July 2013, at Washington DC. In the deciding set, of mixed doubles, Andy Roddick and Alisa Kleybanova fight back from 2-4 down against Martina Hingis and Leander Paes, to tie breaker.
At the match point a forehand winner from Paes bags the World Team Tennis (WTT) Championship 2013 for his team Washington Kastles. Earlier he had won the men’s doubles as well. It was a hat trick victory for the Kastles. In fact they have won the title four times during the last five years. Leander was involved in all those victories. In2009 and 2011 he was chosen as the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the entire WTT.
We in India are not familiar with the competitions and format of WTT which is very popular in the United States during summer months. Leading players from ATP and WTA take part. Both Serena Williams and Venus Williams have played for the Kastles.
The WTT was started in the early 1970s. There have been some changes in the format since then. Each match consists of one set each of men’s singles, men’s doubles, women’s singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles. There are eight teams split into Eastern Conference and Western Conference. The winners in each play off for the title. A season involves 7 home matches and 7 away matches for every team.
In certain aspects, the rules differ from regular tennis. There is no ‘advantage’ for instance. If 40-40 is reached the side which gets the next point wins the game. The court consists of coloured segments. The idea originally was to have a distinctive identity and to avoid the white lines. But the lines are back as you can see in the photo below:
Barney Allis Plaza Team Tennis Court, Kansas City
Coming back to Leander - He is a highly respected and successful personality in WTT as he is in ATP and Davis Cup. India has honoured this winner of 13 Grand Slam titles with Arjuna Award, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award and the Padma Sri.
Even at the age of 40, his playing capabilities have not diminished. He recently made a statement that if he knew he would stay on in competitive tennis for so long, he would have continued playing singles for some more years.
It was a sad day for his many fans when he decided to concentrate on doubles only. Like Ramesh Krishnan he had won the junior singles championships at Wimbledon and the US Open. He was ranked World No.1 among juniors. In the ATP he did not shine in singles as expected though he did reach the rank of 73.
But in Davis Cup it has been another story. Remarkable record in both singles and doubles. Debut in 1990. Victory-Defeat Record: Singles 48-22 Doubles 40-10. One of his most outstanding performances was in the World QF against the much superior France at Frejus in 1993. The 20 year old Leander won his second singles tie also to even up the match scores 2-2. Then, in a nail biting classic encounter another of India’s great tennis players, Ramesh Krishnan, beat R. Gilbert 2-6, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 to take India to the semi finals.
Leander Paes has always given priority to playing Davis Cup matches for India. His personal interests take a back seat on such occasions. In February 2013, he was presented with ITF’s Davis Cup Commitment Award.
Then there was the Olympic Singles Bronze Medal at Atlanta in 1996. Incidentally, Leander is the only tennis player and one of the very few sports persons to have participated in six Olympics. Will he make it to the next Games? Why not? He points out that Martina Navratilova was winning Grand Slams at the age of 50. One, I think, was with him as partner.
Leander has appeared in a Bollywood movie but that has not affected his focus on tennis. Acting is probably in his blood somewhere. On his mother’s side he is a direct descendant of Michael Madhusudan Dutt a great Bengali poet and dramatist of the 19 c.
Carry on, Leander. And come back from Rio with a Gold Medal before you hang up your boots.
Photos from Wikimedia Commons.