September 09, 2013

Leander is, well, just Leander!

My younger brother Barry cleaned him up in straight sets, 6-1, 6-0.

I did it quite convincingly too, 6-4, 6-3.

The person who lost both singles matches on the same day to us in a club tournament was one Leander Paes.

Yes, this is a true story.

But now the real truth.

The year was 1979. Barry was 16, I was 18… Leander was 6!

Calcutta’s favourite sporting hero (jointly with Sourav, I would say) won his 14th Grand Slam title at the US Open on Sunday night.

Actually, if you count his junior Grand Slam titles it would add up to 16.

In the age of Instagram and Facebook likes, the word legend is used all too easily. But for Leander, legend sounds right. Deservedly.

Consider this: he has won his Grand Slam titles over three decades.

If that hasn’t impressed you enough, try this: his singles record against both Pete Sampras and Roger Federer is one win each and no loss!

But our old friend is more than records and surly statistics. There is so much more to this lad (lad?! the man is 40!) who played his early tennis at DI and CC&FC before his father Vece did what most parents wouldn’t do — packed him off to the BAT (Britannia Amritraj Tennis Academy) in Chennai to pursue his passion.

Those of us who have seen Leander grow up know that his first love was actually football, not tennis.

Notwithstanding all his Grand Slam wins and considerable achievements, Leander has always remained the boy next door. Whether it’s paying a visit to the hole-in-the-wall Bengal Hair Dressing Salon next to Mithai in Beckbagan or charming septuagenarian “uncles” and “aunties” in the clubs of Calcutta he grew up in or playing a practical joke on his eldest sister Jackie... Leander is, just Leander.

A few days ago I had lustily TV-cheered Stepanek and his partner as they upset the top seeds, the Bryan brothers. Then the final; a cruise: 6-1, 6-3.

That was a wonderful way to round off a Sunday evening in Calcutta. The effortless win took little over an hour.

Now let me tell you about Sunday morning. There was a lady in a blue top sitting just in front of me at Sunday mass at St. Thomas’ Middleton Row. This was the first time I saw her there (she usually goes to a different church). It was Leander’s mom, Jennifer. Surely her prayers were heard.

[This article was carried by The Telegraph | Monday, September 09, 2010]