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Leander Paes, Lukas Dlouhy© Getty ImagesLeander Paes and Lukas Dlouhy celebrate their 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles for the US Open title in September.

As the only doubles team to have won two Grand Slam championship titles in 2009, Lukas Dlouhy and Leander Paes have become a major force to rival Daniel Nestor-Nenad Zimonjic and the Bryan twins.

Leander Paes, a 36-year-old veteran of 993 professional matches, is enjoying a glorious end to his career in tandem with Czech Lukas Dlouhy, 10 years his junior.

Paes, who has played with 86 different partners, insists the key to their success has been "that when we first teamed up we took time to understand one another," while Dlouhy praised his 36-year-old partner, "as an excellent volleyer, one of the best ever.  It is so easy to play with him and he is difficult to pass. 

"Other Czech players laugh at us, but we don't mind."

"Leander gets to my age when we play and hang out together.  We have similar personalities and share jokes."

Of course both players come from different backgrounds and cultures; and while language is often the barrier, each player has taken the time to learn more.

"Over the years I have competed with a number of Czech players, such as Martin Damm, David Rikl and Martina Navratilova," said Paes.  "In order to gain an edge over other teams, I took the time to learn some key words and signs to not alert rivals to our tactics."

Dlouhy confirms, "If I am talking to someone else he will understand.  He can read my voice.  In doubles, he speaks in Czech and we have different signs and words for different tactics.  Other Czech players laugh at us, but we don't mind."

Despite reaching the 2008 US Open final, Dlouhy and Paes found that wins were hard to come by at the start of this year.  "We were struggling during the spring, only reaching the semi-finals in Monte-Carlo," said Dlouhy.  "We had lost in three of four first rounds and by the time we arrived in Paris for Roland Garros, we were pretty hungry to win something."

Paes, DlouhyFor the experienced Paes, success was just around the corner.  "In Rick Leach, the winner of nine doubles Grand Slams from 21 finals, our fitness trainer Brett Stevens and the occasional support of masseur and physio Sanjay Singh, who I have used for many years, we have established a great team," he began.  "Everyone is willing to give their best.  As a result, it is not just a contract or a business, it is being proud to be a member of a team."

At Roland Garros, under the guidance of Stevens, the husband of former Sony Ericsson WTA Tour player Cara Black, Dlouhy managed to shake off a fever and started to practise the day before the clay-court Grand Slam championship began.  "He put both of us in a good mood to focus and fight for every point," said Dlouhy.  "It was a perfect two weeks.

"It was always my dream to play with a great player.  Leander and Mahesh Bhupathi were winning a lot of doubles titles when I was younger."

Dlouhy has risen into the Top 10 of the 2009 ATP Doubles Rankings by virtue of hard graft and willingness, at least for now, to forgo his singles career.

"I was forced to play doubles, because of the success we had."

"A couple of years ago when I played with Pavel Vizner, we started to play well and reached two Grand Slam finals in one year," said Dlouhy, who was coached by and played with Vizner for 18 months.  "I was forced to play doubles, because of the success we had – reaching the semi-finals and finals at a lot of tournaments.  Because of my singles ranking, in the 70s or 80s at that time, it meant that I was never able to qualify for tournaments at the weekend.

"If I missed qualifying my ranking dropped.  I haven't played enough this year to return back to the Top 100, but I hope to work my schedule to do so in 2010.  It does sound strange because I am near 400 right now, but I still feel I can return to the Top 100 and compete with the elite guys.  For me it is not only doubles, I want to try again."

Paes, who like Dlouhy reached a career-high No. 73 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings, has always personified a player happy with his work.  He has enjoyed the rewards of an adventurer ever since he hit with Anand Amritraj as a sports-mad 12 year old during a Davis Cup tie in his hometown of Calcutta in 1986. 

"Tennis was not my first love, but by virtue of my parents' sporting prowess I was always a sportsman."

Finding himself in the right place at the right time and assisted by Vijay Amritraj, who offered him a place at his Madras Academy, Paes accepted the challenge of leaving home with equanimity and quickly started on the road to emulating his parents, Vece and Jennifer, both Olympic athletes, in reaching the highest echelons of his chosen sport. 

"Tennis was not my first love, but by virtue of my parents' sporting prowess I was always a sportsman," confessed Paes, who turned his back on a scholarship with Dutch football club PSV Eindhoven in order to focus on tennis.  "For me, my dream was to play at an Olympic Games like my parents and tennis provided me that opportunity."

Ever since he recovered from neurocysticercosis, a parasitic brain infection, at the end of 2003, Paes has had adopted a different approach to the sport.  "Post-illness I realised I had not embarked on my other goals and dreams," he confessed.  "It took me around 18 months to fully recover and get back my passion for the sport."

In June this year, after a first round exit at Wimbledon to James Blake and Mardy Fish, Dlouhy and Paes took time out.  Paes indulged his passion for new experiences by accepting Billie Jean King's invitation to join World Team Tennis for the first time.  He was a part of the Washington Kastles team, with Scott Oudsema and Renae Stubbs, which won the title in late July.  "In all honesty, my participation benefited my well-being ahead of the US Open," said Paes. 

Dlouhy, PaesOn the flipside, the time Paes and Dlouhy have spent apart this year has left them too far behind in the rankings to challenge Nestor/Zimonjic and the Bryan brothers for the title of 2009 ATP World Tour champions at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.  Yet Dlouhy and Paes are the only team to have won two Grand Slam championship titles this season.

"I do not regret the decision, as it gave me practise in a competitive environment that was free from the stress of the circuit," Paes said.  "I was able to hone parts of my game and, as a result, I arrived at the US Open really sharp, physically rested and ready to stake a claim on the title."

Closing on his 20th professional season, Paes has 10 major doubles title from 19 finals and has competed at five Olympic Games.  He remains enthuastic about the future.  "I love the game of tennis and my passion for the sport remains as intense as it has ever been," he began.  "I lead a clean lifestyle, combining an Eastern spiritualism with Western fitness, and enjoy travelling to new countries.

"I am aiming to compete at London 2012."

"I am aiming to compete at London 2012.  I was a singles bronze medallist at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics [beating Fernando Meligeni], but I would love to win a doubles medal at Wimbledon.  That would be very special.  After that I'd like to be involved in the entertainment industry in India and work on animation projects." 

Aches and pains may hinder Paes' week-to-week participation on the ATP World Tour now, as witnessed by a two-month break since the US Open due to arm and shoulder injuries, but for a player who first represented India as a 16 year old in a Davis Cup by BNP Paribas tie against Japan in 1990, it is to be expected. 

"Doubles has always been a serve and volley game, but it is changing," he said.  "More and more you see players serving and staying back, with their partner at the net."  To Paes, a former World No. 1 junior singles player and master volleyer, it simply provides him with another opportunity for reinvention in order to play a sport that has given him so much. 

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