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Leander Paes Can Play for Another Year: Mahesh Bhupathi Feels Legend Should Continue as Long as He Can

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi. (Getty Images)

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi. (Getty Images)

Mahesh Bhupathi said that Leander Paes should continue to play Tennis as long and even weighed in on the prospect of the legend playing in the Olympics for a record-extending eighth time.

Kolkata: Indian tennis great Mahesh Bhupathi on Saturday said his former Grand Slam winning partner Leander Paes was still playing well and can continue for another year.

Terming it as "The Last Roar", Olympics bronze medalist Paes is in his last year of professional tennis career. The 46-year-old finished runner-up in his final ATP Tour match on home soil at the Bengaluru Open.

"He's playing well still. He made the final of Bengaluru. If he continues to play well for a few more months, may be he will play for another year. I think the way he's playing he should play as long as he can," Bhupathi told PTI about Paes, with whom he has won three of his four Grand Slam doubles titles.

Asked whether Paes could make it to the Tokyo Olympics squad to extend his record to an eighth appearance, Bhupathi said: "There are four five candidates in contention. We will have to wait and see till the cut off date (end of June)."

Bhupathi was here for the centenary celebration of Calcutta South Club which hosted a galaxy of Indian tennis stars, including the father-son duo of Ramanathan Krishnan-Ramesh Krishnan alongside Naresh Kumar, Anand Amritraj and the club's president Jaidip Mukerjea among others.

Bhupathi, who made his debut here in 1995 under Mukerjea, also went down the memory lane.

"I've got lot's memories here. It has got an incredible rich tradition of tennis. I think it's the best tennis club in the country. So it's nice to come back here."

The former Davis Cup captain, Bhupathi, however lamented that the future was bleak for Indian tennis with little support from corporates.

"Unfortunately, we don't have the economics. I don't think it makes sense for corporates, who are looking for gratification and Olympic glory.

"In other disciplines like shooting, boxing there are multiple medals which is not there in tennis. That's the reason tennis is not getting the backing," Bhupathi, who won eight mixed and four men's doubles majors, said.

"We have some great juniors. But unfortunately we do'nt have a system and corportates' support."

Former Wimbledon semifinalist Anand Amritraj said Indians are at top at Under-14 categories but are not able to graduate from there.

"In U-14 categories, we are always in top three. In U-16 we fall back to top five-six. But in U-18s we are nowhere. The jump from junior to pro is never easy. Our grassroots have to be a lot bigger," the US-based Amritraj said.

Former Wimbledon and US Open quarterfinalist Ramesh Krishnan, who runs an academy in Chennai, said it's important to take tennis to the heartlands of the country.

"We still rely on big cities to deliver talents, we are not able to penetrate the heartlands of the country. It's important to keep them going up the ladder," he said.

Oldest among the Calcutta South Club luminaries was Naresh Kumar, who remembered his playing days in the pre-Independence era. He also regretted about the future of Indian tennis.

"I remember coming here riding on the back of a horse carriage for free trials in the early 1940s," the 91-year-old, who made the Wimbledon quarterfinals in 1955, said.

"The club was in full bloom. It was known as the Wimbledon of the East. It's a great privilege to see all of them here. It has witnessed the best of Indian tennis," he said of the club that produced more than a dozen Davis Cup players including Paes.

"Things have changed a lot now. You require a lot of commercial backing. Economics has to go up. Japan has the highest number of sponsorship. Unless you play with better players, and more often, you are not going to improve," Naresh said.

Two-time Wimbledon semifinalist, Ramanathan Krishnan, also went down the memory lane and picked their famous Davis Cup Inter-Zonal final win against Brazil as his best moment.

"It was the most memorable match. I've many pleasant memories here beginning 1950 when I had come here as an 18-year-old. Naresh was number one then and I was inspired by him," the 82-year-old said.