Indian tennis legend Leander Paes says he is happy to be going out while still being on top, after finishing runner-up in the ATP Challenger event in Bengaluru. The 46 year old Paes and Australian partner Matthew Ebden went down to the all-Indian pair of Purav Raja and Ramkumar Ramanathan in the men's doubles final on Saturday..
Speaking to Outlook India, Paes commented, "When you get to the finish line, it's nice to get there at the top. I don't want to retire when people are saying get out of the way... to finish, to get to the finish line, to get there with trophies in hand, that's pretty special.
Pete Sampras retired when he was right at the top, Michael Jordan retired when he's right at the top." Paes says that the fact that he had played his last professional match in India and that his career is coming to an end sunk in only after the final.
""For me, it only sunk in once today. When I finished the match, I went down the back signing autographs, one young girl, she must be probably around five-six and she had the Indian flag painted on both her cheeks and she gave me one 'One Last Roar' t-shirt which was twice her size.
She laid it down and said Leander, can you sign this? For a four or five-year-old who is about forty years younger to me saying that means she recognises what I have done. When I signed it and gave it to her, she turned around said bye.
That's a great way to go. For a young kid to be inspired, to turn around and say bye, that's a great way to go... It's been a phenomenal journey. It's been a phenomenal ride these last 30-plus years. Part of being a professional is that you kind of numb your feelings a little and like I said, one day the music will stop, one day music will go silent and there will be other roars, other sounds, other magical things to do.
But as of now, when you are a professional and you are working at it [we play single day this week so far], we have got to prepare for the ride. Now, we have got prepare for the next tournament, chasing that next match. As a professional, you are always looking at what you can improve, what the next step is.
But maybe, tomorrow another young kid will come up and say bye." Paes, who still hopes to represent India at another Olympic Games in Tokyo later this year, says that he hopes he had made his father, who was an Olympian himself, proud.
"When I was coming out for the match today, my dad messaged me and said: In the seventies, I used to play hockey in Bangalore and wanted the crowd there to come up and be inspired by me, and we are in 2020 and you [Leander] are inspiring the crowd all over India with your tennis. My dad is very special and I hoped I made him proud."