Credits: Leander Paes Twitter
Tennis icon Leander Paes has explained why India's wait for another Olympic medal might take more time. Paes had clinched bronze in the 1996 edition of the Olympic Games that were held in Atlanta. Meanwhile, that elusive bronze medal continues to remain India's first and only Olympic medal in lawn tennis to date.
“It is going to be a while before we win another medal in tennis. I feel that the competition in our sport in both the men’s game and the women’s game is so fierce, because the physical fitness and the mental toughness it takes, let alone the tennis technique, I feel it is going to take a while to build another Olympic winner in tennis," said Leander Paes while speaking to The Week.
“It takes a lifetime of perseverance,” the 1996 Olympic bronze medalist added.
In his nearly three-decade-long professional career, Leander Paes has etched his name in history books as one of the most accomplished sportspersons. Paes turned professional in 1991 and had an illustrious career, winning 18 doubles and mixed doubles Grand Slam titles and a bronze medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. The tennis icon won a total of 54 doubles titles in his career.
However, it was his partnership with Mahesh Bhupati that changed the face of the men's doubles forever. Paes and Bhupathi had already established themselves as top players in the 1990s – Paes with an Olympic medal in 1996 and Bhupathi with the first Grand Slam won by an Indian at the 1997 French Open.
But an all-Indian pair winning a Major together, and starting a season in such a dominant fashion was unprecedented. They became the first pair to reach the finals of all Grand Slams in a year in the Open era, winning French Open and Wimbledon as top seeds. They also won the 2001 French Open for their third Grand Slam title as a pair. So when the duo decided to part their ways in early 2000, it came as a huge shock to the tennis-loving Indians, and with the ATP World Doubles Championships to be held in the country later that same year, it was considered to be a big blow for Indian Tennis.
Coming back to the 1996 Olympic Games, Leander Paes had qualified for the semi-finals in the men's singles category and was just two steps away from doing the unthinkable. However, a 7-6,6-3 loss to former world number 1 and eventual gold medalist Andre Agassi meant that Paes was not eligible to compete in the gold medal match.
He then made up for it in the loser's final i.e. the bronze medal match by getting the better of Brazil's Fernando Meligeni 3-6,6-2,6-4 and won the third-biggest prize of the prestigious tournament.