The Grand­est Slam

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - Front Page - By In­vi­ta­tion/Le­an­der Paes With three mixed dou­bles ti­tles and one men’s dou­bles cham­pi­onship vic­tory, the writer is In­dia’s most suc­cess­ful player at Wim­ble­don

Some of In­dia’s great­est ten­nis play­ers re­count why play­ing at Wim­ble­don is un­like any other ten­nis ex­pe­ri­ence. Plus: Exclusive guest col­umn by the in­domitable Le­an­der Paes

The Shrine, I am go­ing to play here one day. That is how I’ve felt about Wim­ble­don since child­hood. Ever since I took to ten­nis at 10 years at the Cal­cutta South Club, I was tu­tored in the his­tory of the cham­pi­onships by vet­er­ans such as Naresh Ku­mar, Jaidip Muk­er­jea, Premjit Lall and Akhtar Ali. I also re­call, around that time, I was told by the ten­nis sec­re­tary of Dal­housie In­sti­tute to leave the ten­nis courts when prac­tic­ing with my fa­ther, since the time slot was al­lo­cated for the se­niors, even though the courts were free. I reluc­tantly left the premises protest­ing loudly: “One day when I win Wim­ble­don, you will be invit­ing me to play on these courts.”

To me, Wim­ble­don stands apart from all the three other slams, (the French, Aus­tralian and US Open) ow­ing to its hal­lowed tra­di­tions, the amaz­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion de­spite the rains, the lush grass courts, the royal box and its VVIPs, straw­ber­ries and cream, and the fact that it was my first ju­nior grand slam tour­na­ment win.

It is the turf where the leg­ends of the game – Björn Borg, John McEn­roe, Jimmy Con­nors and Boris Becker and be­fore that, Rod Laver – built their grass court rep­u­ta­tions.

Wim­ble­don has its quirks, in­clud­ing the English weather. Once, I sur­vived as many as 11 rain de­lays spread over three days, to fin­ish one of my matches. But it adds to the tour­na­ment’s charm

Over the years, I have tried to claim some of the hal­lowed turf as my own. In 1990, I won the ju­niors ti­tle here. I be­lieve, at that point, the win was ex­cit­ing and sig­nif­i­cant, as it got me on the way to my ATP ca­reer.

In 1999, I held the dou­bles tro­phy aloft with Ma­hesh Bhu­pathi. The mo­ment was spe­cial since we reached the fi­nals of all four Grand Slams that year and con­sol­i­dated our num­ber one ATP Tour world rank­ing.

In 2003, it was mixed dou­bles with Martina Navratilova and in 2010, af­ter win­ning the mixed dou­bles with Cara Black, I be­came the sec­ond man af­ter Rod Laver to win Wim­ble­don ti­tles in three dif­fer­ent decades. It was an hon­our to be clubbed with Laver, prob­a­bly the great­est ten­nis player ever.

But ev­ery time I’ve played here over my 23-year-old ca­reer, I have never ceased to be amazed at the cham­pi­onships’ time­less charm. When­ever the knowl­edge­able English crowd ap­plauds you af­ter a rally, the at­mos­phere is uniquely Wim­ble­don. The Arthur Ashe Sta­dium at the US Open, the Rod Laver Arena at the Aus­tralian, not even the Court Philippe Cha­trier at the Roland Gar­ros comes close.

Wim­ble­don has its quirks, in­clud­ing the English weather. Once, I sur­vived as many as 11 rain de­lays spread over three days to fin­ish one of my matches. But it adds to the tour­na­ment’s charm.

Over the years, I’ve ap­pre­ci­ated iconic sin­gles win­ners such as Björn Borg, Boris Becker, Pat Cash, Roger Fed­erer and Rafael Nadal. And in the ladies, that ex­tra­or­di­nary cham­pion and fab­u­lous hu­man be­ing, Martina Navratilova, with whom I’ve had the priv­i­lege of play­ing, stands out.

In 2003, I didn’t have a dou­bles part­ner at the Aus­tralian Open. But at the sign-in for the tour­na­ment, Martina came up to me and asked me whether I would be her part­ner. I could not have said no to a leg­end of the game. The rest, as they say, is his­tory. Not only did we go on to win the Aus­tralian Open, but we also emerged win­ners at Wim­ble­don. At that point, Martina, who was 46, be­came the old­est player ever to win a Grand Slam. To­day, when I have turned 41, Martina continues to in­spire me. For the in­domitable cham­pion, age is just a num­ber and she just keeps get­ting bet­ter with ev­ery pass­ing year. Just like Wim­ble­don!

Le­an­der Paes and Martina Navratilova af­ter win­ning the mixed dou­bles ti­tle at Wim­ble­don in 2003. Martina, then 46, be­came the old­est player to win a Grand Slam

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