I have always been a team man: Leander Paes

New Delhi: A few hours after Leander Paes had helped Japan Warriors win their first match in IPTL 2015, he announced that he had actually wanted to play for Indian Aces in the tournament. “I would love to play for the Indian team. [But], they won IPTL last year and wanted to play with the same team. I still wanted to play for them, and I hope I can next year. It will be great.”

Leander Paes interview
Leander Paes. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

The sentiment was natural, though it came minutes after Japan’s win over UAE Royals. Paes won the doubles set alongside Pierre-Hugues Herbert after his side had lost the first two sets, and the upward trend continued as Japan clinched the last two sets too. After the match, Paes spoke exclusively on coming on board the IPTL and the magic of playing in India.

Last year you weren’t part of IPTL. What changed this year?
Well, this year I got an invitation from Mahesh (Bhupathi). He came forward and he basically looked after me and signed me to a two-year contract, and I’m really happy to do it.

Is it more enjoyable when there’s a team in tennis?
Of course! I’ve always been a team man. A team is awesome.

If you win IPTL, where would it rank compared to the numerous achievements in your career?
You know this is exhibition tennis, but at the same time the pride of an athlete is always to win. Like today, to win after we lost the first two sets, to win my men’s doubles and turn the trend around is something that is really important to me. Obviously, I’ve won 17 Grand Slams, so that’s huge. But to win this will also be wonderful. I would love to do that for my team in IPTL.

Japan were losing, but they’re in India with Leander Paes and suddenly they start winning…
If you look at my record in the IPTL, I’ve been playing the men’s doubles and I’ve been winning those. And yes, the team is also winning now. It’s very tough to beat me in India! Very tough.

You said on record you would like to play for the Indian Aces…
Of course!

But will that sit right with the Japan team?
Any team I play for I’ll put my best foot forward, but there’s no doubt I’d love to play for the Indian team.