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Exclusive Interview with Leander Paes at the French Open

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leander_paes1.jpgLeander Paes has been the flag bearer of Indian tennis for close to two decades now and is currently at Roland Garros looking to defend his French Open Men's Doubles crown, that he won with Lukas Dlouhy of the Czech Republic. The pair played their first round match yesterday (read about it here) and after that Leander had an exclusive chat with about the match that just took place.

Despite the rather long rain delays and the further postponement of his Mixed Doubles tournament opener, Leander was happy to share his time dissecting how the match wore on.

Q: To start off, congratulations, tough victory. A delayed start - is it easier when its delayed at the start rather than in between?
LP: Not quite. We went on & off court about 4 times today. We were ready to go on at about 11 which means you're up by 7.30, had breakfast, did our yoga, did our stretching, got ourselves ready, came to the practice courts, warmed up, and you're ready to go at 11 and bang it rains.

I think it's same for everybody but the ones who over the years are able to be more professional, are able to find a routine that works for you, a ritual that works for you, they are the ones who have more success on days like today.

Q: You got off to an excellent start - broke serve in the third game and then later on in the final game to wrap up the first set quickly 6-3. Any comments on that? Was it that you handled the conditions better?
LP: I think I normally start off really well in a match. Normally when I focus, I really jump on my opponents and that is one of my trademarks, and it worked out good. All credit to them in the second set, they staved off 2-3 match points, I think, one with a second serve ace on the line, one with a sharp low volley, they kept on fighting and on days like today I got to give them credit, they kept on fighting at us. It got tricky at the end 4-5 in the third - I held, we broke them but, you know - tight match.

Q: What happened at the start of the second set? Uncharacteristic forehand volleys which you missed and ...
LP: One. I know which one youre talking about - the first one. I had the wrong grip on that one. I hit a good serve, I came in, I had the wrong grip, I got stuck, but more than that it was just other points that got past us.

Q: You did come back well from the early break, and then, you actually seemed to have the momentum because you broke serve and then at 4-4 it rained again. Did that throw it off a bit?
LP: It threw it off a bit. Because we got momentum, we got the flow and infact we even had break points when they were serving at 3-4 if I'm not mistaken. So the momentum was with us [at that stage] When we came out at 4-4, we played a smart game at 4-4 and we had match points at 4-5 and also 5-6 so at that point we were putting so much pressure on them that you got to give them credit for saving it cause we were just putting too much pressure on them. Break points at 4-5, 5-6 we just kept going at them

Q: At the start of the third ..... but before that the tie-break - what happened there?
LP: Yeah. Lukas lost momentum there. We were leading 2-1 I think and the the momentum went their way. We've got to tighten up our tie-breaks, Lukas & I as a team.

Q: In the third set, it did go by serve till the very end. But your backhand returns just seemed to go off and you seemed to be getting frustrated with that a bit.
LP: No. Part of the game. The conditions were tough, heavy. A match like that where you're putting pressure on the opponents, small things become big things. And that's when you have to use your experience to keep things going at an even keel

Having analysed the details of the match - the ebbs & flows, the momentum shifts & even what went wrong on the grip of his forehand volley, we then proceeded to discuss a couple of entertaining things that was sharply burnt into anyone who was there in the stands watching.

Q: A couple of points during the match you actually were shouting out instructions to Dlouhy - we could hear it back there in the stands as well - "Down the line", "Hit it hard"!! Something you tend to do to Dlouhy when he has time to setup to give him that extra bit of direction?
LP: (Smiling) Yes.

Q: Because in the stands it was quite amazing to see you shout out the instructions and Dlouhy following them to the letter.
LP: He's got so much of talent and so much of firepower that sometimes he asks me for experience you know. Just share it sometimes with him. But you can't do it too much, you got to let the person play. But if he asks, then I give it to him.

Q: The last bit - I'm not really sure how I can phrase it as a question, you know , playing those deft touches or cutting off the volleys at the net, the crowd was going crazy. Such kind of reaction to the shots I've only heard here for Federer. How does that make you feel?
LP: (Laughing) Nice. At the end of the day we're all about entertaining people. Especially on a day like today, real die-hard fans only stay back. Cold, wet, its rainy, on & off and on & off all day, a lot of those fans have been her from 9.30 in the morning, and I have a lot of respect for my fans who come out and pay top money to come out and watch. And more importantly stay through the rain. To think about it, we've been here 12 hours and the only ones who stay are the diehard fans & for them I will always give my heart, always play with my heart. Like to entertain them, its fun.

That brought the interview to a close and we at TSC wished him all the best in his title defence.

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