A partner in need : Leander Paes and his continuous slide in doubles


The Indian tennis superstar, veteran, legend whatever more he can possibly be attributed to – Leander Adrian Paes – is going through a rare rough patch in his long career with no men’s doubles title since January 2015 and just three finals in this 21-month period. As the season turns towards its business end, the Indian pro looks likely to end this one without a piece of silverware and as such, we try to fathom things that are not going by the script for the 43-year old.

Leander Paes’ recent dismal doubles record has perhaps been overshadowed by a unique feat that was made by the Indian in collaboration with the Swiss great Martina Hingis in mixed doubles. The Indo-Swiss combine became the first pair since 1963 to win all the four Grand Slam titles as a team after tasting their first success at Melbourne Park early 2015. With their fourth title at Roland Garros in May, the Indian veteran joined his one-time mixed partner and another tennis legend Martina Navratilova – each won a record 10 career titles.

However with mixed doubles not considered a regular tennis discipline with the event only part of the Grand Slams and Olympics (since 2012), it is the men’s doubles that is the bread and butter for the Indian – who is also the oldest Grand Slam winner at 40 – and where the Davis Cup legend has failed to keep going at large. Since winning at Auckland partnering South African Raven Klaasen way back in January 2015, the Indian could reach only one final (at Florida in February) for the rest of the season – and falling in the opening round a whooping seven times. In all 2015, Paes has won 27 matches and lost the other 26 – a ratio of around 0.50 that is considered very poor in the sport.

2016 too proved nothing different as this time around his statistics lowered to 14-16. Post his heartbreak in his historical Olympics outing, the 55-career title winner recorded two final appearances at less popular events at St. Petersburg and Tashkent Challenger. Paes tried to resurrect his rankings by taking part in ITF Challenger level tournaments – he did win one such event in Italy just before Olympics. The bronze medalist Olympian has suffered opening round defeats in a total of 10 tournaments this season including the Australian and US Open.

Coming to the numerous partners that he made during this period, Paes partnered Klaasen for the first quarter of 2015 before he returned to long-time partners of his – Daniel Nestor and Radek Stepanek (with the latter Paes achieved individual doubles Grand Slam in 2012). In his quest to play important tournaments where he could not find good regular doubles players, the 18-time Grand Slam winner struck a deal with singles pro like Andy Murray (Montreal Masters), Stan Wawrinka (Cincinnati Masters) and Rafael Nadal (Paris Masters). Further, to play as many tournaments to prevent the slide in rankings, he changed partner almost every week – Marcel Granollers, Fernando Verdasco, Grigor Dimitrov, John Peers, Lukasz Kubot – all shared courts with the veteran and even Rohan Bopanna with whom he shares anything but a good camaraderie!

Jeremy Chardy, Lukas Dlouhy, Lukas Rosol, Sam Groth, Marcin Matkowski, Teymuraz Gabashvili – these are the other names that has found their places along the name of Leander Paes on the score board in 2016. For most of them, Paes has not played more than one tournament. For me, I think more than form, fitness and waning reflexes, it is the Kolkatan’s knee-jerk reaction to change partnership at the drop of a hat that has hurt his career the most. For instance, look at his mixed Slam success with Hingis. Has Leander partnered four different ladies (no matter if they are indeed the sought-after names in the doubles arena), could the Indian achieve that unique feat of winning all the four Slams in a span of 18 months – the same duration on the other side of which he is largely at sea with a cumulative win-loss record of 41-42. Post French Open, Paes-Hingis duo too has faired poorly in the Wimbledon and US Open – crashing in the third and second rounds respectively. But does that really mean that the Grand Slam winning team should shelve their partnership for just two poor matches? No, not at all.

Perhaps, the current world no. 59 too has understood the old age saying – “A rolling stone gathers no moss.” And that’s why post his disastrous Olympics, Paes has stayed with his association with Andre Begemann from Germany – the 108th doubles partner in his 25-year old career. The pair has featured side-by-side in seven tournaments with mixed results – reaching three finals (winning one Challenger) balanced with an opening round exit at the Flushing Meadows and two other tournaments. In my opinion, Paes should carry on with the rest of the season with Begemann lest the German has any other plans up his sleeve. The great doubles team – like that of the Bryan brothers and other leading doubles players at present – could only be formed after a long association where the partners complement each other.

Photo by Marianne Bevis

Photo by Carine06