Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes are not getting younger. Who are your picks to take Indian tennis forward?
Well, they have turned to doubles, not singles. They were wise enough to realise that singles was a bit tough, so they switched on to doubles. Doubles gives you the advantage to prolong your career and win laurels for yourself and the country.
Tennis has indeed come a long way since we played. Players have to keep up with the changing times. There are a lot more avenues these days as far as sponsorship or TV coverage is concerned. What we really need now are proper programmes and good coaches, who would spot and train the young talent.
Do you think there is a chance of Indian Tennis team winning gold at the Rio Olympics 2016? The impressive form of Paes and Sania does raise hopes, doesn’t it?
It certainly raises hopes of bagging a medal at the Rio Olympics. Leander Paes, Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna have all been playing really well. I do not see us making an impact in the singles, but in the doubles and the mixed doubles we have a very good chance. That in a sense would be great. As one knows, a medal in the Games would add value to your overall tally, and if tennis does that for India, that would be nice.
Tennis, one knows, has a long and gruelling 11 months in a season with four Grand Slams: Australian, French, Wimbledon and US Open. Rankings in singles are most important and watched closely rather than the doubles rankings.
What keeps Leander Paes going even at the age of 42?
As I have said earlier, Paes is a doubles specialist, and has carved a niche for himself in this format where incidentally top players do not play that much. It has helped him prolong his career. It is working perfect for him. It has given him lots of fame and Grand Slams.
When will India produce a world-class singles player like you?
I am really touched by the comment. I really hope that we can produce a world-class singles player in my lifetime. I have a feeling that there is a lot of talent in our cities. ctl is an event that is keen to unearth young talent. There is a lot of interest for the game in the threetier cities. It (CTL) is a tournament that brings in international players. Apart from the CTL, there is also the Chennai Open, which also features some top-class players. The Chennai Open has been there for the last 20 years. Tournaments such as these, I think, will help bring out young talent.
Do you think Roger Federer can still win another Grand Slam or Is it over for him at 34?
The World No. 1 is Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer is not far behind at third position in the atp ranking. So, Federer is still a force to reckon with. As far as adding another Grand Slam to his already imposing 17 is concerned, one can never ever write off a great champion like Federer, even though he is 34. We kept saying this during the phase when he did not add the French Open to his kitty of Grand Slam titles. However, he kept on hanging in there, worked hard on his game and never gave up. And, finally, in 2009, his efforts paid off when he beat Sweden’s Robin Soderling to win the French Open. Hence, he proved many of his critics wrong with this triumph. Federer is truly a great champion and hence, cannot be written off. He still has it in him to win another Grand Slam.
Can Rafael Nadal, after a rather disappointing 2015, bounce back in 2016?
Looking at Rafael Nadal this year, I would say that his confidence has been a bit on the lower side and that has affected his game. But once he steps on to the clay courts after the hard courts, leading upto the Australian Open 2016, I think he will get his form and confidence back. Rafa (as Nadal is fondly called) loves clay, and for him, the clay court is his own home turf. Once he steps into his favourite surface, we all know how unbeatable he becomes.