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August 29, 1996

Leander Paes


LEANDER PAES: How you all doing?

Q. Fine, and you?


Q. Leander, what was your strategy going into the match?

LEANDER PAES: I think the first thing I realized is you can't take on -- at least my style of playing, I can't take on Andre too much from the back of the court. I felt if I caught his ball early before it kicked, I could pressurize him a lot. I was doing that. It was working really well in the beginning. Somewhere around 4-Love, after that long game, I lost the rhythm on my serve. My first serve percentage started going down after that. I wasn't able to come to the net as much. I was coming in after softer balls rather than a serve. I think I lost a little concentration there, a little focus with what I wanted to do. That really hurt me bad today. Give him one chance, he's going to come back, and that's exactly what he did today.

Q. Did that game also hurt your confidence, when you lost that game, as far as whether or not you could actually win the match?

LEANDER PAES: Confidence-wise, I was up two breaks. I was feeling pretty comfortable. I think the main thing that hurt me -- we played about a 10 or 12-minute game, I lost the rhythm on my serve. I came back and tried to loosen my arm up. I was going for too much on my serve. What was working well against Andre is I was cutting his angles off. I changed my game plan and started going for the line a bit more. I got hurt from it.

Q. It was really exciting for the crowd to see you playing so well, a great match. Did it dawn on you at some point what was going on out there, "Oh, my God"?

LEANDER PAES: I've played quite a few matches with a big crowd. My junior career there were crowds, Davis Cup I played especially with big crowds, for me and against me. I love the New York crowd because they really get into the match. At one point there in the beginning of the first set when it was a quick rally at the net, it was a lot of fun. The crowd gets into it, and I like that.

Q. What's it been like for you for the last couple of weeks, the Olympics, you went home for the big crowd, you get through in a good match like this? What's it been like?

LEANDER PAES: To be honest with you, I just -- I'm not used to something like that. I've done well in the juniors. I'm used to a crowd coming out. I'm not used to crowds like this. When I went back home, we have four thousand people in New Delhi. Things have been going very fast. I just kept my head down, concentrated on work hard. That's what's got me there. As long as I keep working hard, you're going to see some good tennis in the next couple years from me.

Q. If you get one of those five breakpoints to 5-Love, are you going to win the match?

LEANDER PAES: Good question, Bud. I think I need to get there first to answer your question.

Q. Is that a game you'll replay many times? You had a backhand volley on the last one.

LEANDER PAES: Yeah, I remember that backhand volley, too. I missed the same thing against him at the Olympics. I went for too much, let it slide, six inches wide. I think it's more mental, up there (indicating). Even though I missed that backhand volley for 5-Love, I was up for two breaks. When you're up two breaks, you need to come out ready and do what's making you win. I think I lost the focus there, right throughout that second set. After that, I just couldn't get it back, as much as I was trying. I was trying to slow it down, pick it up, all sorts of different strategies. I was trying to come off of some chip returns. I just wasn't getting my first serve percentage up. That really killed me.

Q. What did the supervisor -- what was that about?

LEANDER PAES: Well, basically what happened, I was on my forehand, just the way we play, I grunt. Andre does it himself. Monica is an example, a lot of players. As far as I'm concerned on certain forehands that are short and I hit big, I like to breathe out and I grunt. I guess to make sure of the whole thing, he didn't expect to lose the first set, things were getting out of his control. He kind of told the supervisor to ask me to keep quiet.

Q. Was that fair?

LEANDER PAES: It's not for me to judge, Bud. He's a comrade of mine. I hold him in high regard. He's a friend of mine. Again, it's something that's there. He's been pulled up for it quite a few times. He got defaulted because of his behavior I think two weeks ago. As far as I'm concerned, he's a friend of mine. I just go and do whatever it takes. If I have to grunt more, I grunt more. If I have to cry, I cry. If I scream, I scream. Whatever it takes for me to do out there, I'm doing it within the rules. As long as I'm being honest, I'm not trying to break his concentration or play with his mind, which I wasn't trying to do. I just keep doing whatever I need to do.

Q. Same thing in Atlanta, you were grunting as much in Atlanta?

LEANDER PAES: Yeah, it's the same. I'm not even thinking about it. Just certain shots I like to smack, or certain times on a first serve I grunt a little bit.

Q. Do you think he was trying to play with your mind by having you ordered to be quiet?

LEANDER PAES: We're getting into very technical questions also. Again, on the same time, you don't know what his reasons are. He's he; he's a champion. At the same time he complained about it, so I'm not the one to answer that question.

Q. It didn't anger you when he did that.

LEANDER PAES: No. It got me fired up a bit. Should have done it at 4-Love once more.

Q. How did you feel when it got to 4-4 in the second?

LEANDER PAES: That whole second set after I was up 4-Love, I was missing volleys, missing close points that I was normally winning in the beginning of the match. At 4-3 I missed a bad forehand volley, missed a floating return. I then missed a backhand volley. I was getting edgy, trying to say, "Calm down, relax. Go back to your game plan." Some people call that the zone, some people call the level of tennis that you can sustain for a certain period of time. The match is going to go up and down. You have to go with it and hopefully have more ups than downs or stay at a high plateau. I was trying to look for that, trying to get a second wind to pick myself up again and get excited again. I didn't have time today.

Q. Was it the zone?


Q. Were you in that zone that first set and a half?

LEANDER PAES: I definitely had a peak, definitely at a peak. I was playing a high quality of tennis. I think with my strategy, I lost a little focus there, lost getting more first serves in.

Q. What's that like when that starts to slip away? Do you try not to panic? When you first start feeling it go?

LEANDER PAES: As far as I'm concerned, with my style of playing, I just try and relax. I just try and get in rhythm with the ball. Eventually, no matter what you're playing, you're playing with the ball. I try and make that ball a friend of mine, get good rhythm, good position. I felt I lost a little rhythm there. I was trying to get back into the rhythm really.

Q. After how well you played early, playing so well early, what is your basic feeling now? Are you frustrated? Are you disappointed? Are you encouraged by how well you were playing?

LEANDER PAES: I think a bit of everything. I'm encouraged again as I played a great first set, first set and four games. I just didn't close it out. What's getting at me is that's normally my strength, to finish the match. When the match gets tight, I'm generally good at it. The twice I've played Andre now, Atlanta, the beginning of the first set, got close and I didn't put it away. Here I was much closer than Atlanta. Up a set and 4-Love, two breaks, couldn't put it away again. Next time maybe in the third set, fourth time I'll get him hopefully (laughter).

Q. What is the most important thing you think you've learned from this match?

LEANDER PAES: That everybody's human. He's a champion, but beatable, too. I think the biggest thing that I've learned from playing the challengers and playing the satellites, coming up, working my ranking up, is the fact that when you play these guys, they're great, and that's why he beat me badly today in the third and fourth set, but he's human, too. If I work hard, I can be as great if I keep going on and try hard.

Q. When you're out there 4-Love in the second set, does it dawn on you what this could do for your career if you beat him in the US Open? Does that hit you when you're out there?

LEANDER PAES: I have a hundred points to defend from Aruba. This match was worth a hundred points. You don't really think of stuff like that. You think of what you need to do to beat your opponent, what you need to do to win really. That is just keep going in my mind. I was trying different strategies, stay back, come in off the first ball, second ball, my serve. You try different things to get to your opponent.

Q. Would this have been a bigger achievement for you than the bronze medal at the Olympics, beating Agassi here?

LEANDER PAES: The Olympics is the Olympics. For a match that I won the bronze medal, nothing can compete with that. I lost right now, so I can't really say anything about it. Each incident is special in its own way. You remember that incident for that moment in time.

Q. Would you say this match was one of your best on the pro circuit?

LEANDER PAES: Not really. I mean, I've played -- I played great tennis the first set and a half, but I've played some better matches. I've played matches that I've been able to sustain it for a long period of time, even though it's been a best of three set match. When I lost the second set, I've come back in the third and played even better. The first set and a half was great.

Q. What do you expect for the future?

LEANDER PAES: Well, no expectations. I'll just keep working hard. I need to go back today and recover from this match, keep working hard. I've been training hard in the gym, with my running and tennis. That's something I need to concentrate on. Everything else happens. As long as you train hard and keep your head down to what got you here, the rest falls into place: matches, crowds, publicity.

Q. How old were you when you began playing competitively and why did you pick tennis?

LEANDER PAES: International circuit?

Q. Playing at all.

LEANDER PAES: I started playing tennis when I was five. I played every single sport: Soccer, hockey, field hockey, cricket, basketball, tennis, rugby, almost every sport. I had to choose when I was eight years old which one I wanted to go into. I'm more talented at soccer than I am at tennis, but I have more fun with tennis. I really enjoy being on the court with my opponent, whether it's Andre, anyone on the challenger circuit, I have a lot of fun on the court. That's the main reason I do this as my profession.

Q. Do you believe you can win a Grand Slam?

LEANDER PAES: We have to see. No point in talking about it. I've got to prove it.

Q. Before, when you're in that zone as you were today, certainly will be again, is there anything that you do mentally, some technique, to keep that alive? I'm reminded of Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Connors 1975. He looked at the clock and some moment in time, he captured it back. Is there some technique you use when you realize, "I'm up 4-Love, US Open, I'm playing in the zone"?

LEANDER PAES: I think the biggest thing that one has to do is stay calm and stay relaxed. I do that with my breathing. I concentrate on staying relaxed, keeping it up for a long period of time. The talent is there, but my real task is to sustain it for a longer period of time. Today I just couldn't after a while. I just lost it, clicked off. The fifth game in the second was big. Next time, hopefully, I'll just relax and keep it going, hopefully carry that the whole match through.

Q. What did he say to you afterwards?

LEANDER PAES: I don't remember right now exactly. Something about, "That was a scare." Something on that term.

Q. Were you surprised when he came over and shook your hand in that first set with that incredible point?

LEANDER PAES: Not really. We've had a good rapport for the last couple of weeks. I've known him for a while before, but never really played him, so never really have been as close as friends really. Even Atlanta, after we finished playing, shook hands, gave each other a hug. To me he's a nice guy, he's relaxed. He's a competitor on the court. That goes for all of us. We won't give an inch. It just shows why he's a champion, why he won that match today, because he is a competitor. Down two breaks in the second set, down a set, and he still fights. To me, that's something you respect; that's not something you disrespect or shun. He's a friend to me, so.

Q. What are your parents' profession in India?

LEANDER PAES: My dad is a doctor, medical doctor, but he played field hockey for India in the '72 Olympics. My mom is a secretary at ICI, international company. She used to play basketball for India.

End of FastScripts...

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