Tennis legend Leander Paes will wait for the game to start again in full flow on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic before taking a call on his peerless career spanning three decades.
Paes, who turned 47 recently, had announced that 2020 would be his ‘One Last Roar’ season and Tokyo Olympic Games was expected to be his swansong event but the global pandemic crisis put paid to his plans.
“Right now the most important thing is health and safety. Now is not the right time to plan a full tennis calendar. Now is the time to look after our family and our community,” Paes told IANS in an exclusive interview.
“The US Open is supposed to happen in August-September, the French Open is slated for October. But I am seeing the surge of COVID-19 cases going up in America. For us Indian players, it is not possible to travel at the moment. I feel global travel for a profession like tennis will only be completely safe once the vaccine is developed and available.
“In tennis, we are playing a global sport. We have to travel all over the world week after week. We travel from airports to hotels to stadiums and public places. To restaurants and hence in this situation, it becomes difficult,” said Paes who wants to leave behind a legacy by playing his eighth successive Olympics, which has now been postponed to 2021.
“My whole team is enjoying a well deserved break after 30 years of hard work and we will evaluate the situation once the tennis tour realistically looks at starting in full flow again,” said the winner of 18 Grand Slams.
“The vastness of this pandemic is quite astonishing. Neither you can see it and in many cases, the virus sits asymptomatic within us humans.
“The message here is about social distancing, wearing a mask so as to help not spread the virus and looking after ourselves, our families and our society.”
“As this lockdown extends week after week and we are all forced to adapt, it is important to stay happy, spend quality time interacting with our loved ones using our smart gadgets and phones and also reinventing ourselves to this new normal.
“Many of us have been out of our jobs for more than five to six months now and stress, depression and boredom become relevant. It is important to keep a healthy daily routine incorporating a little physical fitness of walking and yoga and stretching, and also engaging our minds with reading and healthy discussions with our family and peers. It is important to take this time to introspect and reinvent ourselves to live a quality life and maximise all the dreams we have,” said Paes who played his last tournament in the Davis Cup in Croatia.
Paes expressed his concern on the huge global economic downturn in the wake of this pandemic and how that would affect every one of us.
“Even in relation to the Tokyo Olympic Games which has now been moved to the summer of 2021, it is important to stay in the present and evaluate the situation week for week. We are all uncertain when the vaccine will be available and all be able to go back to our normal lives.
Paes also highlighted the struggle of Olympic athletes during this time of no activity.
“This is how we earn a living. It is tough to lose 5-6 months of physical fitness and the Olympic athletes train for four years for one event. Look at some of the 100m sprinters..they train for four years for 10 seconds. It is so important for all of us to recognise that we actually have to stay happy and very patient at the moment.”
Paes further said planning for a global sport like tennis is all the more difficult due to its global travel and nature of the profession.
“Planning for a global sport like tennis right now is very different to planning for a English Premier League or LaLiga. Or events that are played in one country.”
Paes also heaped praise on the current Indian tennis players, saying he has huge respect for their journey.
“I have a lot of respect for Indian athletes. It is not easy to go out there week in and week out as a professional athlete. I understand it from my own career spanning 30 years,” added Paes who won India a singles Olympic medal in 1996 and has been Indian’s global flag-bearer since then.