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'I'd be happy to play with Sania in Rio'

By Harish Kotian
July 15, 2015 09:12 IST

'One of the biggest things I've learned over the years is adaptability. Playing with different partners teaches you that.'

Leander Paes tells Harish Kotian/Rediff.com as long as he's feeling good on court, having fun playing and entertaining his fans, he will continue to play.

Leander Paes

Image: India's tennis legend Leander Paes. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images

With two Grand Slams titles under his belt in 2015, Leander Paes is already targeting glory at next year's Rio Olympics.

On Sunday, July 12, the 42-year-old Indian tennis ace teamed with Switzerland's Martina Hingis to win the Wimbledon mixed doubles title and take his Grand Slam tally to 16 -- eight each in men's and mixed doubles.

Paes, who started the year by winning the Australian Open with Hingis, says he would be happy to partner Sania Mirza, who won the women's doubles title at Wimbledon, at Rio. They teamed up at the London Olympics, but were beaten in the quarter-finals.

In an e-mail interview with Harish Kotian/Rediff.com, Paes, who flew to the US after his Wimbledon triumph for the World Team Tennis event, reveals what makes his partnership with Hingis click and the continuing influence of the other Martina (Navratilova) in his life.

Two Grand Slam titles already with Martina Hingis in 2015. You both clicked instantly...

Martina and I have been undefeated as a team in World Team Tennis. This is a fact that many people in India may not be aware of. So there's a level of comfort with each other's games.

Leander Paes and Martina Hingis

Image: Leander Paes and Martina Hingis celebrate winning the Wimbledon mixed doubles title. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

One of your longest mixed doubles partnerships was with Martina Navratilova -- from 2002 to 2005 -- with whom you also won two Grand Slams in 2003. Do you see another long stand with Martina Hingis, who is on a roll at the moment?

I don't see why not!

Three Indians won titles this year at Wimbledon -- Sania Mirza, Sumit Nagal, you. How big is the achievement for Indian tennis?

It is really encouraging.

Personally, what does winning at Wimbledon mean for you?

Someone recently sent me a photograph of mine with the junior Wimbledon cup that I won when I was 16. Every win is special, but coming out and playing like that without dropping a set at Wimbledon, which is one of the most prestigious courts, is very special.

You have had 100 partners in men's doubles. How difficult is to adjust to new players?

One of the biggest things I've learned over the years is adaptability. Playing with different partners teaches you that. Some of my partners have been straight out of college and I've had to lead; some have been big names, with more experience and I've followed.

You learn to do what's most needed at the moment.

Both you and Sania Mirza won titles at Wimbledon. Will you both team up later this year or next to give yourself time to get adjusted to each ahead of the Rio Olympics?

Sania and I played together at London, so it's certainly something I'd be happy to do.

Leander Paes with Martina Navratilova

Image: Leander Paes and Martina Navratilova pose with their trophies after winning the mixed doubles title at Wimbledon in 2003. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

You are 42, an age when most professional sportsperson retire, but you look so young and fresh every time you step on the court. How do you maintain your incredibly high level of fitness?

One of the things I learned from Martina Navratilova was that age can be just a number to look at and smile. She was winning Grand Slams at 50.

I'm fanatical about my fitness, and have a great team that's working with me on maintaining speed and agility.

As long as I'm feeling good on court, having fun playing and entertaining my fans, I will play.

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Harish Kotian / Rediff.com
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