Back in Time is ED’s newspaper type column that reports an incident from the past as though it had happened just yesterday. It allows the reader to re-live it several years later, on the date it had occurred.
For this memory, we go back in time to Atlanta in 1996, when the Indian tennis legend Leander Paes brought home his first Olympic medal. This year, Paes will be participating in the seventh Olympic Games tournament of his career. That’s more Olympic games than some of us have been alive for.
Atlanta, Saturday, 31 August: For the first time in the last 44 years, an Indian has individually taken away an Olympic medal, and the country is rejoicing! 23 year old Calcutta born Leander Paes showed remarkable performance in this year’s tennis games, and is now the proud wearer of a bronze medal for the Men’s Singles category.
As a young novice, not many anticipated the man to reach the level of world favorites like the mighty Andre Agassi. Yet somehow, he did. He rapidly surpassed many of those who had a reputation in the Tennis League, and then farther.
Paes went as far as a semi final clash with Agassi – even tied the first set, but eventually lost that match. The finals score card read 7-6 6-3, which is quite commendable for a player who is so young. Later, he stepped into court to fight for the bronze medal against Fernando Meligeni, which Leander eventually won.
The last time an Indian had singlehandedly won an Olympic medal was the bronze that K.D. Jadhav took home for Men’s Wrestling. This was in 1952 – 11 Olympic Games ago!
Initially ranked 127 in the world and with zero singles win in Grand slam tournaments, not many saw Leander as the peril. But Leander, playing his second Olympics, had his eyes focused at the ball, and was determined to keep it in his court.
When the battle for the bronze began, the game had a shaky start and many would have thought that Paes had run out of the “luck”. As Indian omens go, rain on the court added fuel to the fired minds of the superstitious countrymen who were praying for him back home. But with his heart set on the win, Paes achieved a final victory with the scoreboard displaying 6-2 6-4.
The carpet to the podium will be spread and Leander will share the stage with Andre Agassi (Gold) and Sergi Brugera (Silver). The bronze metal glittering on his tricolor T-shirt today represents the gleam of the happy tears that a proud India is shedding today. After making history, Lender’s words were humble “All I can promise is that every time I go on court I will give my best effort.”
Post Scriptum: Leander has kept those words ever since. Leander now has a record of 18 Grand Slams. There are only few men in history to have completed a Career Grand Slam in both Men’s and Mixed doubles, and Paes is the third and latest to achieve that.
He has been on top of doubles rankings for a quite some time now. And the coolest part is this: at age of 43, he is all ready to participate in his 7th Olympics at Rio where he will partner Rohan Bopanna. Unlike 1996, he now has millions expecting him to win. He has shouldered Indian tennis for more than 2 decades now.
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