Mumbai: Leander Paes on Thursday said he is yet to get over the ugly episode that marred Indian tennis in the lead-up to the London Olympics and this is exactly the reason why he is keen to play the 2016 Rio Games.
"The last Olympics left a real sour taste in my mouth. That is something that is still there. That has been one of my biggest motivating factors to go to Rio. At the end of the day, I can do what is within my control to make sure that I am ready," he told reporters on the sidelines of an event.
The build-up to the 2012 London Olympics was marred by a selection row as players resorted to bickering. A can of worms opened up when Mahesh Bhupathi refused to partner Leander Paes in the quadrennial event. Both Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna refused to play with Paes and insisted on being paired together.
File photo of Indian tennis players Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi.
In a damage-control exercise, the All India Tennis Federation (AITA) paired Bhupathi with Bopanna and to appease Paes, they paired him with Sania Mirza for the mixed doubles. AITA also nominated Paes, a bronze medalist in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics men's singles event, and Vishnu Vardhan for the men's doubles.
Paes, the oldest player to win a grand slam title, said he hopes the issues with the IOC are sorted out at the earliest so that Indian athletes can represent their country in international events.
"Indian sports is at a crossroads at the moment. Right now, we will still be representing under the IOC flag. Firstly, I hope that is lifted. I hope that we perform under our own flag and perform for our own people. The Olympics is still three years away but for me it is to make sure that I am ready, make sure that I am in the best playing condition health-wise, physically, with my game, with my form, when we get closer to the Olympics," he said.
The 40-year old said he is looking forward to play in the World Championship next as it is the only trophy which has eluded him. "I have got a couple of tournaments leading into the World Championship. I will leave on Sunday for the Thai Open, the Chinese Open. But those are all the preparatory events for the O2 where I play the Barclays World Championship. It is going to take two months to prepare for a title that I still haven't won," Paes said.
"I think I have been in four or five finals with four or five partners but that is one trophy missing from my showcase," he said.
Paes, who won his eighth men's double Grand Slam title at the US Open this year, praised his Czech partner Radek Stepanek and said: "One of the reasons I think Radek is the best doubles partner is his intelligence to pick up things, the way he actually creates shots, the way he grasps what we are trying to do in each match. He is so fast that it makes fun to play with."
"There are certain drills that I do to keep my hand-eye co-ordination going, keep my reflexes going. For me I like to control the game on the court, so I will hit shots into certain position where I know the ball will come back or at least I narrow the options down. With Radek at the nets, that is exactly what I am trying to work on. He is such a talented player. He is very intelligent. When I share something with him, he picks it up real quick. It is not easy for a singles player where you have to adapt to the doubles court," he said.
Paes said he approached Andy Murray's coach Ivan Lendl to improve his baseline play. "I have shared a great relation with Ivan Lendl over the years. When I came out of the juniors in 1990, I was number one in the world, I travelled with Ivan for two and half years and trained with him and Tony Roche in Australia. I love to keep learning. My game at the nets is instinctive, it's fast, but my game on the baseline is what I need to keep improving on," Paes said.
"I watched specific players. I watched [Novak] Djokovic and the balance that he has on the court. I watched Andy Murray and the balance he has on court. Both those two players have a two-handed backhand that I can't really relate but someone like Lendl had a single-handed backhand. Hence you can talk to him," he said.
"I spoke to him before US Open, when we were in Cincinnati and we continuously have this ongoing dialogue. It is an ongoing process," he added.
Paes, who has been playing for 27 years, said he still needs to improve his backhand. "I still have to perfect getting a top-spin backhand. I still have to get a serve over 200 clicks an hour. I don't think that is going to happen. But I think it is about getting better," he said.
Queried about his contemporaries Sachin Tendulkar and Viswanathan Anand going strong at 40, he said, "I have tremendous respect for Vishy Anand and Sachin. We are all born around the same time and same year. We all sort of had a similar journey. I have amazing respect for what both have done.
"What Sachin has done in the world of cricket is phenomenal. The role model that he is, is phenomenal. What Vishy Anand continues to do in his sport, profession, is fantastic."