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Leander Paes enjoys the status of a cult hero in Indian tennis.
Image Credit: AP

Father fears about a ‘vacuum’ after leaving a career spanning 30 years

Dubai: It’s not often that the news of expected retirement of a 46-year-old professional sportsperson can still evoke such strong emotions — but it’s different with Leander Paes. It’s like an enduring act of passion play, spread over 30 years and so many acts, which will eventually come to an end in 2020.

“As I said on social media on the Christmas Day, I will be playing a few select tournaments in my farewell year — travelling with my team and celebrating with all my friends and fans around the globe. Dubai, where I have always enjoyed great support from the Indian diaspora, will certainly be one of my last stops,” the ageless warrior of tennis told Gulf News.

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An unique character in the sport with 18 Grand Slam titles and record number of doubles triumphs in Davis Cup, Paes along with Mahesh Bhupathi had always been a crowd favourite at the Dubai Duty Free Championships — the duo winning the men’s doubles here in 1998 and then again Paes pairing up with David Riki to win the title in 2003. The tennis fortnight is scheduled in Dubai from February 17-29 in 2020.

Ever since announcing his #OneLastRoar, as the farewell Tour has been branded, Paes had been planning with his team as to how to make it a memorable experience for his fans worldwide. “The Australian Open will be my first event of the year — where I had made my debut in 1989. In effect, I will be actually playing across five decades — the ‘80s, ‘90s, the new millennium, 2010 decade and now 2020,” Paes noted with a degree of satisfaction.

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While the four Grand Slam events are very much in his plans, he has eyes on two events as the crowning glory in the last year of his marathon career — the Davis Cup in March and the Tokyo Olympics — the second one could see his phenomenal eighth appearance in the Summer Games subject to qualification. Answering to a query on the possibility of his qualification, Dr Vece Paes — the player’s father and a rock in his life — was his pragmatic self. “As things stand now, the team of Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan are ahead of Leander in terms of rankings and are likely to form the first team. It depends on the Indian government if they allow two men’s doubles team to participate — as had been the case in recent Olympics. Then there is a question of Leander and his partner getting a wild card,” Dr Paes explained in a telephonic chat.