Leander Paes warmed up for another Wimbledon campaign by reaching a new milestone in Nottingham last week – clocking up his 100th doubles partner.
The Indian legend teamed up with Spain’s Marcel Granollers for the grass court warm-up in preparation for a shot at winning his 16th Grand Slam title at the ripe old age of 42.
Paes, who has won eight men’s doubles and seven mixed doubles crowns, reached the quarter-finals at the event before resuming his link-up with Canadian Daniel Nestor at SW19.
The four-time Wimbledon champ became the 47th player to notch up 100 different partners, who helped him reach the landmark total of 700 career wins at the French Open.
“It means I’ve had a very long career,” Paes reflected. “It’s quite intriguing in an individual sport like tennis to actually have had that many doubles partners.
“I always try to learn new tricks and keep reinventing myself. It’s been a very blessed journey to go through 25 years and 100 partners.”
Paes has completed the career Grand Slam in doubles and won the first two of his men’s doubles majors (French Open and Wimbledon in 1999) with compatriot Mahesh Bhupathi.
He also played with Bhupathi to win the 2001 French Open but has since found Czech mates in the form of Martin Damm, Lukas Dlouhy and Radek Stepanek to win his other men’s doubles majors.
“I put a lot of homework into choosing a partner,” Paes, who had Martina Hingis by his side to win this year’s Australian Open mixed title, said. “I like to choose someone whose skill set is my weaknesses and my skill set is their weaknesses.
“I’ve been very good at understanding the strengths and weaknesses, and what I focus on is adapting myself.”
But if Paes is to match the 144 partners of record holder (amongst active players) Frank Moser, however, there will be no settling down anytime soon, although when it comes to making relationships work, he seems to have the key.
Doubles icon Bob Bryant led the tributes, saying: “Leander has played that game very well. He knows the psychology of doubles, to make his partner feel better. He’s always smiling, giving encouraging tips. You got to give it to the guy. One hundred partners is amazing.”
“That’s an amazing feat,” brother and team mate Mike added. “He’s probably most famous with Mahesh, the Indian Express. He’s tough to beat. Some of the best hands in the world. I’ve only played with a couple partners in my career and he’s played with 100.
“Doubles is all about communication, and Leander communicates better than anyone. He’s played the game well and his partners play better.”
Paes won 34 titles, including 26 on the ATP World Tour, with Bhupathi. He also competed with 10 Indians in Davis Cup, including Rohan Bopanna.
“Leander is definitely the best tennis player we have had in India for a long time now,” Bopanna said. “He brings out the best in his partners by motivating them at all times and making them comfortable. It’s unbelievable to hear he is playing with his 100th partner; that is some achievement.
“It shows how easily he can adapt and change with new partners. It also shows he has kept himself fit for so many years to achieve this goal. At 42, he is top 25, an example to everyone that if you keep yourself fit, age is just a number.”