But says the country needs to nurture a young team
The task was simple, but the challenge was enormous. Having served the country for 30 years, Leander Paes expressed satisfaction that the job of seeing India move forward was accomplished with a ruthless win over Pakistan in Nur Sultan, Kazakhstan.
Returning in the early hours of Monday from the 4-0 win over Pakistan, when the Indian team dropped a mere seven games in all, Paes met the media along with captain Rohit Rajpal and coach Zeeshan Ali after a warm reception at the airport.
The 46-year-old Paes said that it was important not to forfeit the tie for whatever reason, which had looked a possibility at one stage, and thanked the Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju for supporting the team when the situation was not clear.
Beating Pakistan, which did not have a player in the top-1000 of world ranking was not a challenge, but handling the tricky situation when some of the Indian players expressed concerns about travelling to Pakistan was the key to India finding itself in a healthy position of facing the 2018 champion Croatia for a berth in the World final.
Paes stressed that it was important for the younger generation not to be relegated in Davis Cup, and thus he was happy to play his part in ensuring a smooth journey to Croatia for the tie to be played in March.
Having made his Davis Cup debut in 1990 against Japan in Chandigarh, Paes acknowledged that Zeeshan had guided him through the long match when the Indian pair won 18-16 in the fifth set. He also recalled how he had taken the place of Rajpal then, as the fourth member in the squad.
“I have lived my career, playing for my country,” said Paes, who won the singles bronze in the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 apart from winning 18 Grand Slam doubles titles.
Praise for physios
While both captain and coach were unanimous in rating Paes’s immense experience very high, Rajpal praised the two physios — Anand Dubey and Yash Pandey — for ensuring a good preparation.
Looking at the challenge ahead, Zeeshan said that the Indian team would prepare well for Croatia, which has high ranked players.
“We have beaten Australia in Australia when it had four top-10 players in 1987,” said Zeeshan, recalling the Indian team’s ability to work the magic in Davis Cup.
Paes had himself played a significant role in beating Goran Ivanisevic in the last tie against Croatia in 1995. India won 3-2 then on grass at the NSCI in Delhi, when Paes won both his singles matches apart from the doubles with Mahesh Bhupathi.
“I should have been moved out by the younger generation. We need to nurture a young team,” said Paes, even as he emphasised that it was not tough physically any more, in best of three sets, when a doubles rubber spanned about one and a half to two hours.
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