Leander Paes is a lone wolf. He is also aggressive, undiplomatic and snooty. But if I had won 18 Grand Slam titles, I would have probably earned the right to shoot my mouth off as well. But that's a personality issue; what does it have to do with the way he plays tennis or does his country proud on the court? Just don't call him to dinner.
There is a history to his bluntness. Several years ago, when Leander was still a kid, the only person who had faith in his talent was his father. But there was not enough money, and I recall very clearly one abortive effort to gather funds from the NRI community to send him for training abroad. I don't think anyone stepped up, however, and Leander may have got funding from elsewhere later, but to a great extent he didn't have any mentors in the early years. Nor did he get any joy from us because who the hell was Leander Paes?!
I am sure the Paes family remember the cold rejections they received.
That could also be a reason for what we see as a chip on his shoulder. He truly believes he doesn't owe anyone anything, so tough bananas if you don't like what he's saying, he will say it anyway.
Not that it is a sorry excuse for rudeness and insensitivity, but if players like Martina Navratilova and Martina Hingis find him delightful, there might well be a side to him that he keeps hidden off the circuit, because he has been hurt too often by the home pyramid.
Occasionally you get the feeling that Leander sees himself as the odd one out in the Indian tennis lobby, the others all forming a cabal, and that is why he is always coming out of a corner and throwing punches. It is also easy to conclude that people are jealous of you and your success, which if you keep brandishing about like it was a sword, is sure to cut others to the quick. So he has adopted brashness as his armour.
Probably the bad behaviour is increasing as the sun begins to set on a splendid career, and with the party almost over. Moreover, Leander's lead over the others in international triumphs is so vast that it has paradoxically isolated him from the management of Indian tennis as the next logical step.
I don't think he has even been asked to bring his experience to the table and this could also rankle. Take Vijay Amritraj's career after retirement as an example: It was sterling; charming, courteous and respected, he did as much off the court as he did on it. Leander's PR skills, meanwhile, are largely absent. You can badmouth him as much as you like but if he wants to comment on the best options that should have been exercised by India, sure, he has earned that right.
As for the comments themselves, he said India didn't select the best possible combination for the Olympics. Now again, if you had Paes' record, and had won every major title, wouldn't you be peeved if you were not allowed to partner Sania Mirza in the matches? His argument that the best team wasn't put on show does have merit, though it wasn't said very diplomatically.
He also shows up as an acrimonious John McEnroe against a backdrop in India where sportspeople are usually silent and submissive and deathly afraid of commenting on officials who manage our sports and can easily ruin a career for a slight they might feel.
If there was more upfront honesty, the Leander Paes saga would have been seen as mild schoolroom stuff, petulant yet scarcely toxic. But then again, you have to ask: Leander, the most successful Indian tennis player, or Leander, the ungracious dinner guest? Take your pick, you cannot have both.
First Published On : Sep 20, 2016 17:36 IST