Leander Paes, unlike Sachin Tendulkar, threatens to leave behind a fractured legacy

Dileep Premachandran focuses on the steadying erosion of Leander Paes's reputation as the Indian tennis great continues to alienate his peers.

Leander Paes is India's most successful tennis player but his treatment of his fellow Indian players is damaging his reputation. Steve Bardens / Getty Images
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In his autobiography, Sachin Tendulkar has written about retirement day, and how Virat Kohli presented him with auspicious wrist threads that his late father had given him. Both men were in tears afterwards.

On the eve of that final Test, Suresh Raina paid his own tribute to his hero by singing a couple of lines from Lehron ki Tarah Yaadein (Memories like Waves), one of Tendulkar’s favourite songs. The runs may have dried up in the last couple of years of Tendulkar’s career, but he remained a much-respected, even adored, member of the dressing room.

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It’s extremely unlikely that the 43-year-old Leander Paes will get such a farewell, whenever he decides to bid adieu to professional tennis. While he may have inspired thousands with his exploits, especially on the doubles courts and in the Davis Cup, Paes has also become a divisive figure.

The Rio Olympics fiasco, where the All India Tennis Association (AITA) had to compel Rohan Bopanna to partner Paes in the men’s doubles — they lost in the first round — had given some more insight into just how unpopular Paes has become, and he didn’t help his cause after the 5-0 Davis Cup defeat to Spain last week.

“I can very, very clearly say that the past two Olympics, we didn’t put the best teams forward,” he said. “This Olympics — the mixed doubles — was a huge opportunity. What more does a man need to do than win four grand slams in 14 months?”

Paes had won three major titles in 2015 with Martina Hingis, and the pair also prevailed at the 2016 French Open. But in Rio, Sania Mirza chose to partner Bopanna, after being forced to play alongside Paes four years earlier.

Neither Mirza nor Bopanna let the Paes outburst pass. “The ONLY way to win with a toxic person, is not to play!!! #karmaiswatching #zenmode,” tweeted Mirza, while Bopanna was even more direct on his social-media feed. “At it again!! ...the usual ploy to stay in the news by slanging fellow players in media. #Patriotism,” he wrote.

Paes has now offered Saketh Myneni, who Bopanna wanted as his partner at the Olympics, the chance to play doubles with him on the ATP Tour. Having burnt bridges with two generations of India players, it’s a fractured legacy that Paes will leave behind.

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