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September 8, 1999

Leander Paes

Mahesh Bhupathi

Flushing Meadows, New York

USTA: Questions for Leander.

Q. How does it feel now?

LEANDER PAES: Well, it's a fantastic feeling, being in the finals of yet another Grand Slam. Up till January of this year, we lost in quite a few semifinals. It was the next step that our doubles had to take, was bridging that gap from semifinals to finals. This year reaching four finals, having won two of them, there's one thing that we are looking at, is that those two games in January in the Australian Open were very, very important. We're delighted to be in another final. We have a good match coming up day after tomorrow. It's amazing how, you know, it could have been a humongous occasion, sitting right here in that final in Australia were different.

Q. Can you call it on the historical aspect of this being the first team to reach all four Grand Slam finals in a single calendar year in The Open era?

LEANDER PAES: That stat is something that I knew before I started playing with Mahesh. It was something that I wanted to set as a record. Being Indians, I wanted to set that trademark, doing it with another fellow Indian, getting to four Grand Slam finals, even maybe winning a Grand Slam. At that point in time when I thought about it, I thought it was a little farfetched goal. It's been a fantastic year. It's in the history books to an extent that not only are we in four Grand Slam finals, but in a way, we've proven to India that we can produce champions, even though it's only in doubles. We've proven to India that we can achieve levels and heights of this magnitude if you're willing to work hard enough and put things together.

Q. How do you explain two singles players with rankings greater than 100 doing so well in doubles?

LEANDER PAES: There are quite a few things that go into our doubles. But if there was one single-most quality I'd have to pull out, is that when we play together, we play with heart. We motivate each other. We keep each other in line. Even though this last year has not been a great year off the court, we've been thoroughly professional about it. We pull together when it comes to crunch time. We step up to another level. It's a special feeling that we have when we play together. This year we both played with different partners. We've talked about those situations. You know, I've had a bit of success with other partners. But when one plays with Mahesh, it's a special feeling.

Q. Could you expand on the misunderstandings off the court or would you rather not?

LEANDER PAES: Well, I mean, I don't mind getting into it to a certain extent. I just feel that being in a position of being No. 1, where we are now, there's a lot of things that come along with that. One of the things that does come along with that is that people want to be on that bandwagon. Hence, you find Mahesh has his group and I have my group. In that, people want our individual best interests at mind. They want his interest, his group; my group wants mine. Subtly there's a communication barrier. That's something that we have to keep very solidly intact, because that's the main reason Mahesh and myself do well together, is that we communicate with each other, not necessarily with words, but with body language, with eye contact, with understanding of each other. There have been certain times this year that that communication was not right. That has been caused by outside influence. That's something that we're working on now. It's something that I hope gets better because that's what's going to look after the longevity of our career in doubles, as far as playing together goes.

Q. You have different coaches for singles. Do you have one person helping you with the doubles?

LEANDER PAES: You've thought about that one, haven't you (laughter)? It won't be fair for me to comment on Mahesh's point of view. But as far as I'm concerned, the reason I took on Bob Carmichael was because he was one of the best doubles players in the world in his era. There were no ranking systems at that time, but I'm sure he was probably in the Top 5, if not the Top 3. Just his understanding of the game, his understanding of both Mahesh and me, is just spot-on. I missed him a lot of six months that he was away. It was unfortunate that he missed the French Open, but it's great to have him back for Wimbledon and again here. He's been a great source of inspiration. He's been, to a certain extent, the reason why - he helps us pull together. In these last couple months when things have not been going so good, everyone's had their version the story, and Bob has been one of the only few who has encouraged us to go straight directly to each other. So much so that he basically says, "You go directly to Mahesh." He tells Mahesh, "You go directly to Leander and sort this out." It's fantastic. As far as tennis goes, he understands the game of doubles like the back of his hand and he gives us some very good advice.

Q. Earlier this year, there was the tension between you, Mahesh, the two sides. Hasn't most of that gone out the window now or is there still a long way to go to patch things up?

LEANDER PAES: Well, I think it's coming around the corner right now. At the Gold Flake Open till about three weeks before -- two weeks before the US Open; it was very, very tough. It was at its worst. I hope we've come around the corner and we keep things simple because that's what's needed. I mean, we both play fantastic doubles. We were the best of friends. We are the best of friends still. We just need to sort things out. We need to make sure we deal with each other directly and there's no miscommunication because I think that's all this was about. It was just misunderstanding and miscommunication.

Q. When you were partnered with different players in the early part of the summer season, was that a test to see how you would go with a different player or was there something more devious in mind, if I can use that word?

LEANDER PAES: It was definitely not a test of going with different partners. The decisions that were made, both by Mahesh at the Italian Open to play with someone else, and by me in Indianapolis to play with someone else, was based on both our individual lack of physical fitness. I was sick just before the Italian Open, and Mahesh has been injured just before Indianapolis. That's all that was happening. There were a lot of people that read into that too much and had their own versions of the story. That's something that is not in our control. What's in our control is to make sure that we do come together as a unit, with our separate individual teams, and basically, to keep things very simple. That's something that is the most important for the next couple months and the next couple years. It would be a shame if things don't work out, but I'm positive that we are definitely going to make things work. We are making things work right now, not only on the court, but off as well, to preserve our doubles team.

Q. Are there any great doubles teams of the past who you admire or try to emulate?

LEANDER PAES: Very ironically, the Woodies are one of the teams that we admire. I believe they went through their share of troubles, as well. You try and learn bits and pieces of different people's artillery, as I call it. The Woodies have something special, and that's why they're one of the greatest doubles teams ever. You just learn from different people.

Q. Have you had any advice from the Amritrajs or the Krishnans in doubles?


Q. Besides being one of the top doubles teams in the world, the fact that you're the first from India to be so highly ranked, I was wondering if that's an added burden, carrying the flag along with having to play?

LEANDER PAES: You know, it's funny. Every time I do step on the tennis court, I have the flag on me. I basically take great pride in representing my country. That's why my results have been better when I have played for the country versus when I've played for myself. The reason I started playing with Mahesh three and a half years ago was to basically prove that Indians can be champions. It's a real delight sitting here right now, even though what all we've been through this last year, for the last three and a half years, actually my word's coming true. Mahesh has worked very, very hard to make it happen. It's special. It's really special. I think that's something that gives us immense confidence, immense belief in each other, that we can come through whenever the chips are down or when we're tested, you know, to the limit, on and off the court, that we will eventually stick by each other. That's what makes us one of the best teams out here.

Q. Can you comment on the finals, O'Brien and Lareau?

LEANDER PAES: We've played them quite a few times. We really enjoy playing them. They know our games well; we know theirs. It's going to be a fun match. The last time we played them, we didn't start too well at Wimbledon. We were down two sets to Love. We came back and won that in five. Hopefully, we get a little better start this time. We've got to be ready as soon as the bell rings to come out firing.

Q. How do you like the crowd here in New York?

LEANDER PAES: The day before yesterday was fantastic when we played Gimelstob and Reneberg. Didn't start too well. We were down a set. They started saying, "Sare jahaan se achha Hindustan harnara." I remember the beginning of the third, we looked at each other, the song was chanting in the back. I had goose bumps on my arms. We made eye contact and knew we had to get it going. That was special.

Q. Can you translate that into English?

LEANDER PAES: The song basically is not our national anthem, but it's like our folk song. The words translated from Hindi? To English, it doesn't come across as arrogance. It just comes across as unity. Basically what it says, "In the whole world, we will strive to be the best."

Q. There's a lot of speculation at home about the change in captaincy in Davis Cup. What do you think about it? Do you think there's a need for a change?

LEANDER PAES: Well, I don't like getting involved in politics. I try and stay as far away from it as I can. When I will be asked as to who I would like as captain, I will voice my opinion. Until then, I'm going to reserve anything I have to say about that. The speculations that a few people have made in regards to my lack of happiness with the present captain is untrue. I respect him a lot as a tennis player and as a person. When I'm asked as to who I want, it will just basically be based on what the best is for the Davis Cup team as to what I feel.

Q. You talk about kind of the tough times you've had in the relationship. Can you talk about direct communication? Do you have to get a tighter bond between the two of you? Do you think this difficulty can make you two a stronger team on and off the court?

LEANDER PAES: Definitely can. I think, you know, it's funny. When you sit back and really look at the situation, it's just miscommunication, people misinterpreting as to what was going on. Mahesh believing a bit of it; I believing a bit of it, rather than us communicating and coming directly to each other. We've done that. We've sorted out our differences. The next step now is to keep that bond solid, is to communicate on a daily basis, on a weekly basis with each other, and get on with what's at hand, which is basically proving we're the best team out there. The competition out there is tough enough for us to work on rather than to have extra problems with it.

Q. Do you have to get your entourages or folks on the same page so you're not constantly being pulled apart?

LEANDER PAES: I think so. I think that is the main thing that has to be worked on. It's a process that we're going through now. It's not going to be solved with one sitting. It's not going to be solved, you know, with just people saying, "Yes, I agree. No, I don't agree." It's going to be something that we have to practice week-in and week-out. It's something that both our teams have to be on the same page on a daily basis and have the team's best interest in mind, not both the individuals.

Q. Have you both had to make sacrifices in this to come to a common ground?

LEANDER PAES: Not yet, but it might come to that.

Q. You were saying earlier three years ago when you decided you were going to play with Mahesh, your goal was to do what you've achieved now. Did you really believe and feel that it was going to be realized?

LEANDER PAES: Mate, I never do something unless I totally believe in it. I think about things a lot. I evaluate it. I really ask myself ten times over as to whether I'm going to give it everything I've got. I'm never sure of the result, but the one thing I know about myself, whatever is needed to be done for me to achieve my goal, I will do it. The belief that I had in Mahesh, as well, was the exact same. I knew that he had the ability, the talent, and more so the heart to be here.

Q. Your doubles partner has been exceedingly well-performing for the last two years. The whole nation - perhaps you're aware of - wants you to do very well in singles. What is your plan for the next millennium that is going to happen in the next four months? Are you going to work at singles in a different concept, seeing all these players struggling with injuries, physical problems, the way you're looking at the season 2000?

LEANDER PAES: That's been a very tough task this past year, to try and balance both my singles and doubles. You ask me whether we sacrificed anything for it. That's one of the things that I feel I've had to sacrifice this year because it's almost impossible to perform week-in and week-out, 40 weeks a year, at singles and doubles. The end of last year, we chased No. 1. We ended up short. For the new year, we focused on the Grand Slams and trying to be No. 1 in the world. We're pretty happy right now that we're in a position that no one can really catch us till the end of the year. We have many points ahead. So the goal that we set last year has been achieved, but we still need to keep performing through the whole year. The end of Hartford, we'd realize our dream come through again. For the new year, it's something that I'm having to go through now, because I'm 26 years old, and I'm not getting any younger. I've achieved pretty much every goal that I've set out to achieve, whether it's been Davis Cup and the Olympics in singles, doubles now. One of my other goals is to try to get into the Top 50 in singles. That's something that I'm trying to incorporate into my doubles, as well, as to: How am I going to tackle that? There's a lot of work that has to be put in for me to achieve that. It's a tricky question to answer at this moment in time. I don't believe I have the answer. But where there's a will, there's a way. I'm sure I'll find a way.

Q. What happened in the mixed doubles here?

LEANDER PAES: Not much (laughter). We lost a tough one. Now we see Don Johnson and Kim Po in the final. I must say Kimberly really played well that day. Had a couple breakpoints on her in the third set. She came out with flying colors. She aced me on one, which I don't want to talk about too much (laughter). She really played well. I'm glad to see them in the final.

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