Leander Paes was off the courts at the All England Club much before Rafael Nadal’s match against 100th-ranked Lukas Rosol reached its shocking end. But if he had hung around and watched that game, he might have received a quick lesson in humility.
The world number two Spaniard crashed to defeat against 6’5” Czech, who was making his debut at Wimbledon. The 6-7 (9), 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 defeat was astonishing and it, for lack of a better term, should have made Paes eat his words.
No player in his right mind should come out and tell his partner that ‘you are no good.’ But that’s exactly what Paes did and it’s unforgivable.
“The only one that I need to worry about is Vishnu,” Paes said at Wimbledon. “The poor boy is 307 (sic) in the world and I don’t even know if he has grasscourt shoes.”
The thing about sport is that is regularly defies prediction. Most sportswriters, and well anyone who follows sport, try all their lives to predict how things will turn out but few of the predictions ever turn out correctly… that is simply because there are too many invariables involved.
You don’t know in what state of mind the players will turn up. Who knows how things will turn out. At the Olympics, Paes might just have a bad day and then can Vishnu turn around and say: ‘I know you have grasscourt shoes and are ranked seventh in the world but today, you played like S**t.”
He probably won’t say anything like that but I would be glad if he did.
Sport is littered with stories of upsets — in the 1980 Winter Olympics, a team of amateurs made up the US hockey team which went on to beat the mighty USSR team in a match that is widely referred to as the ‘Miracle on Ice’; Buster Douglas, a 42-1 underdog, knocked out Mike Tyson in 1990 in fight that was already finished in the minds of most sports writers before it even began; Rulon Gardner beat Aleksandr Karelin, the best wrestler ever, to win the gold medal at the Sydney Olympics… before this match, Karelin hadn’t lost a match in 13 years, and hadn’t even surrendered a point to an opponent in the six years; or Greece winning the 2004 Euro Cup without having a single star player in their team.
The list is so long that we can go on for days and there would still be no end in sight. But Paes simply chose to ignore all of this and ‘insult’ Vishnu. Now, he may not be the best player in the world but then neither is Paes, unless he has deluded himself into thinking he is Roger Federer.
For a long time, doubles has been accorded a second-class status in tennis. The top players simply don’t play the format but if they did, then how good would Paes be? He can’t hit groundstrokes to save his life and his serve isn’t particularly good (it never has been).
So why is Paes so proud? Indeed, what gives him the right to tell Vishnu that he is ‘a poor boy.’ As things stand, we have more respect for Vishnu than for Paes. The fact that he hasn’t said anything yet simply shows that he wants to play the Olympics more than his senior pro.
The entire narrative of Paes’ career has become about schadenfreude — a German word that best describes how the ‘legend’ is acting. It is a pleasurable physical emotion felt among some animals when observing negative emotions or physical pain in others.
And given what Paes, the self-proclaimed king of Indian tennis, is managing to elicit among his fellow players, one can only guess that he falls in that category. He seems to be trying to show that he is the guy who is being wronged when all he should be doing is going out and playing.
If he would have kept his mouth shut, played with Vishnu and done well, we would have all probably saluted him and turned our anger towards Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna who denied him a chance at the medal.
But Paes probably has forgotten that all his fame is due to tennis and if he can’t respect the game and its players, then he really can’t expect the others to treat him with respect either.
So when someone asks me during the Olympics, ‘Who are you rooting for?’ My answer will be ‘Vishnu.’
Not Paes or Bhupathi or Bopanna because sometimes, just sometimes, even the poor guys win. And I am hoping this will be one of those times.