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Paes: "I’m Playing For The History Books"

Indian Wells, U.S.A.

Paes© Getty ImagesLeander Paes is the 17th player to reach 600 doubles match wins.

Leander Paes celebrated his 600th doubles match win Saturday at the BNP Paribas Open when he partnered Radek Stepanek to a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Spaniards David Ferrer and Albert Ramos in the first round.

ATPWorldTour.com caught up with the the 38-year-old Indian, a winner of 49 tour-level titles, who reflected on the milestone, playing with 87 different partners and the most meaningful win of his career.

You got your 600th victory yesterday. How does it feel to attain another incredible milestone, particularly here at an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event?
For me at this stage, I’m playing for the history books and setting new records, so for me to get my 600th win is really special. I’ve got to really thank my whole team over the last 20 years, they’ve made such a difference with me. My yoga master/masseur has been with me 22 years, Sanjay Singh; my fitness trainer Dave Herman has been with me 21 years; and Ricky Leach has been one of my best friends for 19 years and I sure wouldn’t have reached 600 wins without all of them, so I’m really thankful to all of them to get me to this spot.

You were finally able to complete your career men’s doubles Grand Slam at the Australian Open. Was that extra special to clinch that against the top-ranked doubles team that really dominated in Melbourne the past five years?
It was really special, I got to do it with a really good friend of mine, Radek Stepanek. Radek is not only one of the greatest tennis players of all time, but he’s a really dear friend of mine. The way we did it, Radek was ranked at 112 in the world in doubles at the time we entered in, and I told him it’d take him three months to get into the Top 20. Little did I realise what was going to happen. We beat the No. 3 seeds, the No. 2 seeds and the No. 1 seeds en route to winning a Grand Slam. We were unseeded at the time.

Those kinds of things are what I play for. That’s what wakes me up in the morning, pushes me through some hard days, pushes me through some travel. Being on the tour is just a great lifestyle, it’s a very clean lifestyle, it’s a very healthy lifestyle, but at the same time it’s a very lonely lifestyle. To be able to have a great team like that and try and reach those milestones, try to win those big matches, is what it’s all about.

You probably have the best court sense of anyone on tour. Would you consider that your greatest asset in contributing to your career-long success?
I would just consider that you're being too kind. (laughs)

What do you think has enabled you to do so well, find longevity and continue to stay in the top?
My team. My passion for life, my passion for the game. It’s about finding the right partners. I’ve played with so many different partners now. Wikipedia actually posted on the net that I had 87 different men’s doubles partners alone, or 78, I can’t remember which one now. I think after about seven or eight you start losing track, let alone 78 or 87. But I think just having to adapt my personality to different partners and make them work most of the time is kind of the game for me. It’s fun, it keeps it challenging.

With your victory in Melbourne, you’re almost assured a place in the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. How satisfying is it to be the frontrunner this early in the season?
As satisfying as you just said it. It’s amazing how in the first month of the year you already know your goals are done. And now just try and reset the goals and keep trying to achieve more. For me, I play for the Grand Slams, I play for the Olympics, I play for the big events like Masters [1000s].

Last year I didn’t win a Grand Slam and this year I’ve come in and won the first one, so now I’m really kind of working hard to keep improving every day and to keep actually driving it home and keep winning as many Grand Slams as I can, and keep pushing that bar up. It’s like a pole vault, where you do a certain height, you want to push it up another inch. You do that, and you push it up another six inches, you do that and you do it another inch. I just feel like a pole vaulter, trying to raise that bar.

Speaking of goals, the Bryans, Nestor and Zimonjic have been the only ones to claim the No. 1 ranking the past four years. You have a great opportunity during the clay court season and the middle two Grand Slams to really pick up some points. Where is getting back to No. 1 on your radar? Is that something you can pull out?
Can I pull it off? Sure. Am I interested in pulling it off? I’m not so sure. I don’t play a full calendar anymore. I don’t play 25 weeks, 29 weeks like most of the guys. I generally do 16-17 weeks. So for me, at this stage of the game where I’ve been No. 1 for so many years already, plus at the same time I’m doing so many multi-tasking things. I’m acting in movies, I’m doing graphic novels, I’m doing my business at home, designing real estate. I’m also trying to be a tennis player while I go, so I’m not so sure that’s one of the big goals as far as I’m concerned. If come around the US Open time, I feel we’re kind of pushing that limit, then definitely I’ll go for it, but winning Grand Slams is what it’s all about. I figure if you win Grand Slams you’re going to get to No. 1 anyway.

Talking about your career aspirations, you mentioned acting on the big screen. If you had the opportunity to co-star with any actor, who would it be and what would be the movie genre?
I got so many actors in mind right now. One of my all-time favourites was Denzel Washington. Another one was Clint Eastwood. Another one was Keanu Reeves; he’s phenomenal. You can see the genre I’m going after, a lot of action, a lot of serious kind of drama movies. I love that kind of stuff. More action driven, more martial arts driven. More undercover spy agent driven. Those actors are so versatile. All three of them. Another one of my favourites is Leonardo DiCaprio. At the moment he’s my all-time favourite because he’s just so versatile and does so many different types of roles that it’s fun.

On the women’s side, there are so many great actresses out there and I’m just talking about Hollywood right now. I’m trying to make my mark in Bollywood back home. There are a few great actors back home, like Shahrukh Khan is amazing. Amitabh Bachchan is amazing. Aamir Khan does great versatility work. These are the kind of actors I have a lot of respect for and try to learn from.

And finally, out of your first 600 wins, which one stands out and why?
This Australian Open would have to be one of the most special, not only because it’s the most recent and freshest in my memory, but it’s also the way we did it. To beat the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seeds en route to winning the whole thing and it was the only Grand Slam I hadn’t won to complete a career Grand Slam playing with my 87th partner. All those things really kind of summed it up and made it special.

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