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BwC S4E3 – Leander Paes | Leander Express

October 21, 2019


There’s no words… …for Leander… I mean, he’s
almost like my brother you know. You always try to welcome me with a smile
in the locker room… always giving me… …great advice and… …it was just such an honour
to always be surrounded by you. When he played doubles,
It was like a ninja playing you know… …it’s two persons at the net. He’s here and then he’s there,
you don’t know who’s who. He was probably the fastest
tennis player at the net, by far! He was so much fun to play against… …and I thought I would much rather play
with him than against him. He has a good sense of humour. He has a smile on his face. He has a lot of massages! I have to thank you, though,
you know how you have friends and… …they come good for you
at some point in time… …you know, you hope that they do. You did… for life now, you don’t
have to do anything for me for life… …’cause you made me meet Boris Becker. – Isn’t he just the coolest guy ever?
– Ever. Stuttgart, Germany… ‘98… ‘99 maybe… I was playing… …doubles against him and he was
playing with another German boy… …I was playing with Mahesh (Bhupathi) and… …in the course of the match,
we were beating them… …and on the side change,
he turned around to me and he goes… “So lucky, is that all you got?” And I burst out laughing. I just cracked up laughing and we both
laughed and played it off and… That was unique one. I’ve been very lucky, I’ve got some
great friends out there. Boris Becker, (Ivan) Lendl… Lendl and myself always take
each other’s trip in the locker room. He’s hard as nails, huh? I thought I used to train really hard
back in 1991… …I thought I was training
really hard and you know… …I was so burnt out of tennis and stuff… I finally said let’s go see
what the pros train like. He trained so hard, I mean
I was crawling off the court everyday… He’d do 8 hours of tennis… …then after that he’ll go
for a run for an hour. …and then when I would go back to the room,
crawling into my bed to rest and eat… …he’d go out and play 18 holes of golf. With no golf buggy, nothing…
he’d just walk around and play. That’s Ivan Lendl for you. Sadistic. You’re dodging bullets ‘coz
he’s just at you all the time… …he’s breaking your mind down all the time. He goes, “Come on, Indian boy,
is that all you got?” Or it’s waking you up at 3:45 in the morning
with 19 German Shepherds right on you. One of them right on your face.
My first day at camp. I was warned by Tony Roche
to lock my door, I didn’t… …I was 19-years-old at the time. So… …at 3:45 in the morning, Ivan wakes
me up with one German Shepherd… … just drooling over me right here…
and bad breath! And I wake up, and all I see
are these eyes and these teeth. I caught the dog and throw him off my bed… …to only realise there were
19 of them around me and… …Ivan in the corner, laughing. Pitch black, 19 dogs right at me. Who’s the life of the locker room? Interestingly enough, when
(Roger) Federer gets into a mood… …he’s one of the loudest guys
in the locker room. Really? When he gets into the mood
he’s ragging on everybody. He’s speaking to the German gang
in German… …he’s speaking to the
French gang in French. He’s putting on an Indian accent for us. He’s one of the sharpest cats
about any subject. So he’s always taking
cracks at other guys. Djokovic… Novak’s another amazing brain. Who’s the guy you stay away from? You’re like, let’s not
mess with this fellow. Through the years that you’ve played… …a guy who you’ve just gone…
we have to leave him in his zone. (Pete) Sampras. Sampras you’d leave alone,
he was more of an introvert. I was very lucky to be his sparring partner
back in Florida, back in the day. And I would train with him all the time,
I’ve played him 4 times. Once in singles, three times in doubles.
Never lost to him but… One of the real introverts,
very quiet, had his own rhythm… …Paul Annacone who was his coach… Doug Spreen, who was his
physiotherapist… …always kept him in his own little cocoon,
never let him get out of it. And complete contrast,
(Andre) Agassi was just… …there in the locker room with everybody.
Chit-chatting, laughing, joking… Talking about how
your mum and dad are… …talking about the last meal you ate,
where the best curry house is… …just the life of the party. – Have you ever met Gabriela Sabatini?
– Many a time. I should have pursued my tennis. What you guys don’t know is that
we both have a huge crush on Sabatini. I had a poster of her over in my room. – I kid you not.
– Sportstar poster? – I’ve never…
– Everything’s falling here… it’s all crashing. It’s coming apart man. I’m going to say something
really embarrassing right now… So when I was 10 years old, I had a poster of
Gabriela Sabatini in my room. It was really sweet like she was
wearing a sweatshirt and jeans and… She’s at a beach next to a rock. It’s a really sweet, like
I’m-in-love-with-you kind of poster. That’s the Sportstar poster. No, it was a big one. No, no, you have to buy
those big ones. Really? This was after she won
US Open? No, I remember buying it form
Archie’s gallery. We got another Sabatini fan over here. The whole crew is fans of Sabatini. He’s saying he still has it…
I can’t believe it. – Give it to me now.
– Now… I want it. Let’s steal it. Also, I don’t know if it was for you… …but watching matches of Sabatini
and Steffi Graf was very difficult. – Because you didn’t know who to-
– cheer for. Both were stunning athletes. That US Open Final which
they played was just… …no, no, it was not for the tennis. They’re beautiful, both of them. What was their favourite
shot that you liked? Anyone where they grunted! This ‘Breakfast with Champions’ is
going down the gutter. Do you remember when you asked… … when you thought about asking
Martina Navratilova to play with you? – She asked me actually.
– She asked you? She walked into the men’s locking room.
There was a knock on the men’s locker room… …and we all kind of looked at the door
wondering who’s going to knock… …someone’s going to walk in. And in walks Navratilova
and she taps my chest, and goes… “You are going to play with me”.
I’m like, ‘Alright’. – Who’s going to say no to Navratilova?
– No one. ‘You’re going to play with me?
Okay, where should I sign up?’ And we ended up playing for 4 great years,
we ended up winning multiple slams together and… It was the start of one of the great friendships
and… one of the pillars in my team. My 9pm phone call at the MD Anderson
when I was a little under the weather… Let’s talk about your illness ‘coz
you just sort of referred to it for a second… …darkest period of your life? Through my whole life I’ve had
a few dark periods… When I was a kid, I was born with
a mitral valve prolapse… …close to a 100 doctors told my dad… …that either I was
never going to be an athlete again… …or I was not going to live
beyond the age of 12. And there was one
Doctor Cherian down in Chennai… …I had to do my medical tests
before I went off to tennis academy… …and I remember he was wearing a
white safari suit, no shoes on his feet… …he had a small black & white TV,
watching the World Cup. Where Maradona shown through…
the Mexico World Cup. He was sitting there
with his feet up on his desk… …and he said, “Son, go inside there
they’re doing your tests…” I was doing an ECG & stress test… [Doctor] “I’ll be inside in 15 minutes”. I said, “Doc, if they’re close to scoring
please call me”. He goes, “You like football, huh?”.
From that minute I loved the man. He just told me that the longer you run
and the harder you run… …the stronger the heart is going to be.
He said, “You keep running… …you keep working out,
you keep enjoying your life”. In 2003, I was very blessed to have
a great team of doctors around me… The first radiologist said … …my playing days were done
and I definitely needed surgery. A bunch of medication later…
it took almost a year and a half… …to lose all the weight from the medication…
I had put on 128 pounds… after that. – So you put on about 45 kilos?
– Somewhere there. 52. That’s another human being…
you ate another human being… – …you ate a junior tennis player.
– That’s right. You put on 50 kilos…
why did you put on 50 kilos? Just the medication,
just the medication from it and… I was just very happy to have
my life back again. So having a new lease of life at that time… …I knew I wanted to come back and
play my 4th Olympics in Athens. I knew that was a goal,
‘coz I’d promised dad… …when I was 10 years old,
that I’ll play four Olympics. I didn’t know how I was going to get to my first,
but I was going to play four. You over shot that target by a bit,
didn’t you? Well done with 7 man! So your medal at Atlanta…
is that the happiest day of your life? I know that’s a big call…
winning that medal for India. ’Coz I know how much playing for India
means to you. Happiest day of my life is…
Aiyana being born. Happiest day as an athlete… Atlanta ‘96. The hard work ever since
I was a young boy… …and used to polish my dad’s Bronze medal
From ’72 [Munich Olympics]… …and to grow up as a young boy
idolising your father… …all I ever wanted to do…
was to emulate him. So I could sit at the dining table with him
knowing that I had my medal too. In Atlanta, he was in the stands…
in fact… …in the semi-finals,
he was sitting with Andre Agassi’s dad… …when Andre and myself were playing each other
and they were bitching about us… So, halfway through the game, Andre
walked up to them on a side change saying… “What are you guys talking about,
you should be on different ends of the court”. And they were like,
“No, we’re just bitching about you guys”. So, both our fathers were Olympians as well
and I guess… …proud moment for them but… …even prouder moment for both of us sons,
to have our dads there… And that’s what I’ve tried to do
ever since I was about 12 years old… …is to work hard enough to prove that
we could be number 1 in the world. And that’s the movement that I love to be on
is to creating a difference to… …the youngsters in our country,
to be the best they can be. It’s a very gratifying feeling when these young
20-year-olds come around and say… “Uncle, you motivated us to be who we are”. So, do you say, “Well great, congratulations…
but, who the hell are you calling an uncle?” You missed a lot of the
growing-up boy stuff that… …you have in your early teens… …the blank calls to the girls… …you know trying to sort of catch somebody’s eye
that kind of stuff… Yeah, I missed out on all the prank calls,
blank calls,we were pretty… … blinkers on, focused right through and through
when I was pretty young… On saying that, the world became your stage,
so you had to grow up very fast… Say at… …the cricket team, the hockey team,
the soccer team of the country… …your expenses are looked after
and what you earn is your prize money. In individual sport in India, you do not have a
club or a team that looks after your expenses. Every single expense that we have… is paid out of
our prize money or our sponsorship. So hence, as a professional tennis player,
you’re spending about… …2.5 to 3.5 crores every single year,
depending on how big your entourage is. That’s quite expensive, man. I know, in the first 10-15 years of my career… …and the last couple of years of my career,
you don’t break even. You lose money. But there’s a lot of sacrifice
that goes into excellence… …and I just put it down to that. I haven’t spent a birthday home
since I was 12 years old. Wow. My birthday is in the summer and it’s normally
just the week before Wimbledon. So, the preparation for Wimbledon is
so intense and so focused… …that I haven’t spent
a birthday home since I was 12. Before Aiyana was born,
I hadn’t spent a Christmas home. But now every Christmas,
I make sure I’m home with her. When you were a kid… I know you slept in
locker rooms and stuff, right? That was where… where was that?
Wolfsburg, Germany. It was the height of winter.
It was the 14th of November. And I had about 20 Francs
in my pocket at the time. And didn’t have money for a hotel room. I just had my return ticket back to India. I had been on the road for 10 months in a row. Was pretty broken down, pretty jaded,
pretty exhausted from the travel. I wasn’t winning many
matches back then… it was 1991. I was in Germany and… …I knew I had to win my
qualifying match the next day… …to get my Hotel room covered,
it was the last round of qualifying and… …I bought the locker room attendant an
espresso with 5 Francs of the 20 I had. And with his broken English
and my broken German. I managed to convince him
to let me sleep in the locker room. So, that night at midnight, he locked me in. He gave me 3 towels.
He says, “One, as your bed… …two, as your pillow… …and 3, next morning you shower”. And he came back the next morning
at 5:45 AM… …woke me up, and said, “Shower…
before everyone else comes in”. That is what I gathered
from his broken English. There have been two times in my career,
where I’ve almost packed it up. In ‘91… I decided to play the pros only. And I was getting beaten up so badly,
that I came back after Wolfsburg… …and threw my racquet bags into the cupboard. And I verbalized, and said it pretty strong to my dad,
that I’m never playing this sport ever again. For 8 weeks, he didn’t say one word to me
about tennis after that… …4 weeks of that was the off-season… …and the [other] 4 weeks was the
first week of the new season. He didn’t say a word to me. By about the 5th or the 6th week…
I asked mom, “Is dad feeling alright?” – Why is he not saying anything?
– Exactly. And she goes… “You’re always going to be his son. You could be a tennis champion or not…
You could do anything in the world… You’re going to be his son…
he’s not going to push you”. 6th week… I said, ‘He’ll come around’. 7th week… he still didn’t say anything. By the 8th week… I managed to find my racquets
and found my stride again. I started finding my own hunger
that burnt deep inside of me… I kind of found that passion again but… …I think Wolfsburg and
November/December of ‘91… …were very big in my career to
re-kindle that passion for sport. The difference between a boy and a man… … to being a participant or a champion… …to being a champion or a legend… …that little difference is inherent within. So you’ve won all these titles… …you’ve won the most number of probably
individual trophies won by any Indian sportsman… …you’ve got the Olympic medal… …but one of the great achievements…
one of the pinnacles of your career… …and I want to talk about that… has been… Rajdhani Express. Pinnacles did you say? Thank you, sir! And I will let you know… that the critics said
I did a decent job for a newcomer. So, the critics were being
bought back then also. Yes. But, did you like it,
you had fun, did you…? Yes, I watched Rajdhani Express,
I thought I did well in it. I thought that I deserved
the lifetime achievement award for that. No one complained.
Do you have an objection? – I don’t, I don’t. You should.
– You sure? At least in this room, let the guy who’s
not done a bad movie cast the first stone. It’s not going to be anybody
in this room… that’s for sure. “You had me at hello.
And you complete me”. How sad.

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