Kolkata: He is known as a person who doesn’t mince words. Put forth a question before him, and he will answer it candidly, no matter how delicate it is. So, when SportsCrunch asked tennis legend and former Indian Davis Cup coach, Akhtar Ali whether Leander Paes should call it a day, Ali was categorical. “We need to leave it to him. It has to be his decision. I know him since a long time and have also trained him. He is very stubborn. Once, he decides something, he will stick to it,” said Ali in an exclusive chat with SportsCrunch.
Coming from a person who has seen Paes grow and emerge as a superstar in the game, one has to buy his words. So, we were curious to know if he had a chat with Paes regarding retirement. “No I haven’t spoken to him. But nowadays the game has changed. The ranking matters a lot. You know players come out of computers. But then once again, it is to the discretion of Paes as to decide on his future course of action,” said Ali who won the Dronacharya Award in 2001. Ali’s son Zeeshan is currently the coach of the Indian Davis Cup team.
With Mahesh Bhupathi set to take over as the new captain of the Indian Davis Cup squad from Anand Amritraj, there are speculations that it might force Paes to hang up his boots keeping in mind the ‘tension’ between the former Grand Slam Doubles Champions. “See, Bhupathi was a world class player and there is a formal selection process through which players and captains are selected. When it comes to Davis Cup, it’s the country that comes first and there is no room for any tension or discomfiture,” said Ali who is currently busy with his Sunfeast AITA Super Series Junior Tennis Tournament that begins on February 20 and will end on February 25 in the city.
It’s the 19th edition of the tournament to be held under the categories of Boys and Girls Singles Under 14, Boys and Girls Doubles Under- 14, Boys and Girls Singles Under- 16 and Boys and Girls Doubles Under- 16. The qualifying rounds will be organised on February 18 and 19.
Elaborating on the tournament, Ali said, “This time we have 250 participants. The game of tennis is only getting bigger with time thanks to better technology, facilities and of course the money is a big factor. There is enthusiasm among youngsters to take to tennis, which is a healthy sign. This tournament is really a big one and it is only going to get better with time.”
Talking about the interest level in tennis among the new generation, Ali would hate to compare generations. “It is unfair to look at the past. The game has become more competitive. Every generation is different. Television plays a huge role in popularising the game. There is money flowing into tennis. Some not-so-rich European countries show an inclination towards tennis because of the money involved in the game,” he said adding that despite cricket being a religion in the country, there was no dearth of excitement around tennis.