Leander Paes: A Throwback to the 1996 Olympics

3rd August 1996, Atlanta

A relatively unknown player from Kolkata was battling together with his emotions while playing his worst tennis of the past fortnight against Brazil’s Fernando Meligeni. The 23-year old had the load of 98 crore hopes and a lifetime of diligence on his shoulders. He had been trained by his father, Vece Paes, the Olympic bronze medalist of 1972. The loss of the primary set compelled the sports journalist to pen down a well-known story for India again, returning empty-handed from the foremost prominent sporting carnival of the world .

16000 Days of disappointment

India attained freedom in 1947 and have become a republic in 1950. Sports among all the aspects were expected to grow, and therefore the result showed within the 1952 Olympics when KD Jadhav won a trophy in wrestling in 1952, and India produced a world-beater sprinter in Milkha Singh within the 1950s. However, the sporting culture of a nation bereft of necessities soon died, and India went without a private medal in Olympics for 44 years. Sixteen thousand days without a medal. For reference, it took around 12,000 days to achieve independence after the daddy of the state landed on the shores of Mumbai in 1915. Therefore, there have been hardly any hopes from the 47 members’ contingent that left for Canada to participate within the 1996 Olympics.

Leander Adrian Paes

Leander Adrian Paes was one among the upcoming stars within the Indian tennis circuit. He had qualified for the Olympics in doubles along side his partner Mahesh Bhupathi. Leander Paes had many weaknesses in his game amongst which his serving was one among the most important roadblocks amidst an Olympic Medal. His partnership with Mahesh Bhupathi worked because both the players were sterling in putting a curtain on each others’ deficiency.
Therefore, when Leander Paes, who occupied 137th spot on the ATP rankings, received a wild card into the only event of Atlanta Olympics, there was hardly any excitement amongst the fans and pundits alike. When Paes lost the primary set within the first round to Richi Reneberg, all the critics received assertion.

Is this the same Leander Paes?

When Leander Paes stepped onto the court for his first game against Richi Reneberg, there was something which was unlike him. The player had muscles bulging out of his biceps, and his focus reminded of the famous mythic story of Arjun aiming at his target’s eye. One aspect of his game, which turned him to a lion from the lamb, though, was his first and second serve. His serve at a pace of 199.3 Km/hr made him the ninth fastest at the sporting carnival. there have been no doubts about his net play but what changed was his attitude towards the sport . The player who seemed like a autoclave in his Davis Cup matches looked calmed even when he lost the primary set of his first match.

And the wait ends

The first set loss against Richi Reneberg was the last set he lost for subsequent four games. Leander Paes, on the rear of some exhilarating performances and killer backhand shots, reached the Semi-finals where the Challenge from Andre Aggasi awaited. Agassi had already bagged three grand slams by 1996 and was the 3rd ranked singles player within the World. What shocked the planet was that Paes did manage to offer him a run his money, and therefore the eventual gold medalist lost nine games to the Indian gladiator during a 7-6,6-3 victory.
A widespread belief amongst the common folk says that men don’t cry, but watching the visuals of Paes holding the bronze between his lips did manage to wet many eyes after an epic comeback during a three-set duel against Fernando Meligeni. The scoreboard read 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, and a wait that lasted 44 years finally ended.

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