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Interview with Leander Paes: ‘Sport brings the community together and inspires youth’

Eighteen-time Grand Slam champion, seven-time Olympian, Olympic medal winner; the tennis player extraordinaire who strode the world stage setting record after record Leander Adrian Paes is calm and composed when MENews247 catches up with him for an exclusive interview on his visit to Dubai as part of the All Stars Football Club (ASFC) squad competing in the Celebrity Football Cup 2022 by AG Events friendly match versus Emirates United on May 7, 2022.

After a sports career spanning 30 years Paes retired from professional tennis in 2020 and is currently a motivational speaker, based out of Mumbai, India and Orlando, United States. 

Acknowledged as one of the greatest tennis players in doubles, the record-holder for the most doubles wins in the Davis Cup, and the first Indian and only tennis player to compete in seven Olympic Games, Kolkata-born Paes, 49, is credited with putting India on the world tennis map.

Excerpts from the interview:

Greatest passion:

“Tennis has always been my greatest passion and I have been fortunate to have succeeded through it for over 30 years.”

Sport and life:

“I have always used sport as a vehicle; to not just entertain the community, but to bring the community together and to show all the youngsters in the world that sport is a great vehicle to educate yourself, to earn a living, to put bread and butter on the table, to bring happiness to people.” 

Current focus in life:

“For me, sports education is one of my primary focuses at the moment. Building Olympic-training centres in India is another focus. 

“I do a lot of work with corporate speaking and corporate work, to exchange and share the knowledge that I have gained from travelling the world as a professional tennis player. 

“I share that knowledge and experience with the corporate world, on how team-building is done, on how leadership is done, on how following strategy is done, on how quality of life can definitely translate to quality of performance.”

Pro tennis focus:

“My focus has always been to be prepared and leave nothing to chance. I have worked hard, run that extra mile and given 100% to the game. The secret of my success has been to invent and reinvent myself again and again to stay ahead of the curve.” 

Indian youth perspective:

“The youth in the metro cities all have access to smart gadgets nowadays. A lot of the talent that is coming out is all coming out from tier three cities, where they [youth] are so hungry to achieve, and they are so hungry to earn a living. 

“For example, look at MS Doni [Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Indian professional cricketer], he hails from Ranchi.” 

Success comes with passion:

“When you look at boxers, and a lot of the golfers in the world, including Tiger Woods, you look in tennis, in my sport, whether it was Serena Williams and Venus Williams, whether it is all the other tennis players that have come from Eastern Europe or from Russia or from similar backgrounds, they all had to work really hard to earn a living. 

“It goes to show that if you have a passion for something, you can always succeed. It is just having to learn a system. It is about developing a system that brings you success.” 

Dubai tennis and football:

“It’s so cool because I’ve won the Dubai Duty-Free Championships several times. I’ve had great success at the Aviation Club, playing tennis and entertaining the crowds there. So, now, to come in and do it with football is a real treat, especially with the pandemic easing up. 

“Coming back to Dubai and playing in front of the fans in Dubai and playing football this time are so unique.”

Daily motivation:

“Happiness, passion for life, my deep sense of responsibility to make a difference in the community. These are the few things that motivate me a lot.”

Reaching out to people:

“I have a deep care for the people I meet. I think relationships in the world are really important. It takes only one second to offer someone a simple smile, or genuinely connect – like we did with our common backgrounds [between Leander Paes and Arnold Pinto] – and at the very first time we are catching up. 

“I believe that with a simple smile or a kind hello you can change a person’s life for the better. You never know what people are going through in this modern world. You never know what stresses or what hardships people are going through. But, with a simple smile, a nice handshake or a warm hello you can bring happiness to anybody.”

India foremost:

“My dream and goal has been to make my countrymen and women proud by representing India. 

“The boy who dreamt to put his country on the world map is today a man on a mission to motivate, empower and make a difference to people’s life, passion, and dreams.”

Motto in life:

“Infuse as much happiness in people’s lives, as I can.”

The star-studded Celebrity Football Cup 2022 friendly match for charity was organised by Ayush Gupta Events at Shabab Al Ahli Stadium in Dubai. 

In addition to Leander Paes, the 18-man squad for Mumbai-based All Stars Football Club (ASFC) included Bollywood superstars Abishek Bachchan, Ranbir Kapoor, Kartik Aaryan, Shoojit Sircar and Aparshakti Khurana. 

The Emirates United team featured UAE community footballers, including Nasser Al Neyadi, Bakhit Saad, Mohammed Qasim and Abdulaziz Binbaz.

Emirates United won the match (3-0).

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