Pune: He might be at the twilight of his career and forced to play with a new partner at the eleventh hour, but veteran tennis star Leander Paes continued to wear his heart on his sleeve, saying he will put his best foot forward during the Davis Cup encounter between India and New Zealand starting in Pune on Friday.
"I will put my best foot forward for my country, no matter what it is. I feel sorry for Saket (Myneni). No athlete wants to be injured coming into such an important event," said Paes about the last-minute change in the squad that will see him partnering Vishnu Vardhan and not the injured Myneni in the doubles rubber of the Asia-Oceania Group I round one tie commencing on Friday.
"Saket is one hell of a tennis player and a great guy. The last time we played against Spain, I really enjoyed playing with him. He came up to me yesterday and said he was very sorry for what happened. We all wish him a speedy recovery. He is one of the pillars of the team. We hope he is back," said the 43-year-old Cup veteran who is one doubles win away from overtaking Italian Nicola Pietrangeli.
Asked about him being on the cusp of setting a new Cup record, Paes said it was not only important to him but also to the entire nation.
"Record is important to the country (too). I played my first Davis Cup tie on 2 February in 1990 with (current team coach) Zeeshan Ali. Now it is 27 years that I have been playing. The reason I play Davis Cup is because I love to play for the people, for the flag and equally importantly for the team.
"I am so proud of everyone (team members) standing beside me. I have to give a shout out to Yuki (Bhambri). We were all in a tough position yesterday (due to Myneni's inability to play the tie). 'I believe Yuki you were asked whether you could play singles as well as doubles' and Yuki said 'if its required after my Friday match I will come forward and play.' I am very proud of Yuki. It speaks very highly of him."
He also revealed that it was he who wanted to make the first call to the country's top-most ranked doubles player Rohan Bopanna despite the two not being the best of friends, but he was prevented from doing so.
"I said I would be very happy to make that first call to Rohan. I was asked not to," said Paes, who refused to reveal who stopped him from making the call.
"There were three people who spoke to him and I was not one of them. I don't know exactly what happened," said team captain Anand Amritraj and gave a one word reply 'yes' when further asked whether he would have wanted him to play.
"In Davis cup doubles is always crucial. It's important to have the best team we could find. We did play what was the best team in this Olympics (Paes and Bopanna). Out of four singles we need to win two at least and the doubles. They (New Zealand) have a very good doubles team and that's their strength, in my opinion.
"Saket's foot was not good last evening. We wanted a replacement and we got a good one. Leander and Vishnu will play doubles. Luckily he (Vishnu) was available, he was supposed to play in Kazakhstan. Fortunately he did not get his visa," he added.
Paes also said he and Vishnu, who played as a pair in the 2012 London Olympic Games, seemed to have their destiny stitched together.
"Someone smart said two hours ago that you and Vishnu do seem to have a little destiny together. I want to thank Vishnu as a fellow Davis Cupper to push himself forward at such a quick call, not even a couple of days before the match. It speaks a lot about his patriotism, about how he puts the team above himself. It speaks large about his commitment to all of us as a team.
"We are actually wearing saffron, green and white (flag at the media conference). We play as a team, fight as a team. India has always done it. Rankings go out of the window. We beat France in Frejus, beat the Dutch at Jaipur and Anand 'sir' took us to three World Group play-off rounds all three years in a row now. We go out and fight together. We play hard, have one billion people behind us. He (Vishnu) did it in Olympics and at Wimbledon. We will fight together.
"Their doubles team has got a lot stronger. Before that they had good singles players. Yuki has done such a great job. He's cleaned them up in singles. He has got a fabulous game, he stays within his game," said Paes about India's chances.
Updated Date: Feb 02, 2017 20:07:52 IST