‘To be the first Indian to be nominated is special’

Tennis great Leander Paes says it is “humbling” to be the first Indian tennis player to be nominated for the prestigious International Tennis Hall of Fame in the players’ category.

Leander, who is the first Asian man to be nominated for the International Tennis Hall of Fame, was named as one of the six nominees for the Class of 2024. He will be competing with former partners Cara Black, Daniel Nestor along with singles Grand Slam winners Ana Ivanovic, Carlos Moya and Flavia Pennetta in the players category.

Li Na, the Chinese player who won the women’s singles title at Australian Open and French Open, was the first Asian player to get nominated to the ITHF in 2019.

“International Tennis Hall of Fame is the most eminent body in the tennis world. It has got the four Grand Slams which are the biggest tournaments, we got the ATP Tour, the WTA Tour, the Davis Cup, Federation Cup but the ITHF is based out of Newport Rhode Island and the tennis tournament they have there which is the Tennis Hall of Fame event it is one of the most picturesque tennis event,” Leander said in a chat with sports journalist Ayaz Memon in Mumbai.

Leander, who won the bronze medal in the singles event at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, has been included in the six-member list for the players’ category for a rolling period of three years to be nominated in ITHF class of 2024.

The official announcement of nomination from both players’ and contributors’ category inductees for the class of 2024 will be on November 1.

“For me to be nominated as the first nomination into the player category, as the first Indian to do that, is very special because dad (Dr Vece Paes) has motivated me to push the boundaries and put India on the map,” Leander, who was accompanied by father Vece and daughter Aiyana, says.

Dr Vece Paes won an Olympic bronze medal at the 1972 Games in Munich as a member of India’s hockey team. Aiyana, 16, is currently training in the sport.

Leander detailed on how the voting process works.

“The nomination is determined on two categories of votes. The first is votes from fans, the winner of which comprises three per cent of the votes, the runner-up comprises two per cent and the third position of fan vote gets one per cent.

“But the actual induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame will be determined if you get 75 per cent of the total votes — not just the fan votes but there are about 140 votes approximately given to past hall of famers, players, coaches and media — that is where the real meat of the voting will be,” Leander adds.

“I am one of the six nominations in the players’ category. There is Carlos Moya, Flavia Pennetta, Cara Black — my mixed doubles’ partner who I won the Wimbledon with and then the Australian Open.”

“There is Ana Ivanovic and Daniel Nestor, who also was my doubles’ partner.”

Talking about today’s tennis stars, Leander picked Carlos Alcaraz as the “most exciting” young player to have emerged in the last 10 years.

“You look at the two top ones, Iga Swiatek and Alcaraz. I think Alcaraz is probably the most exciting new player in the last decade. For me, he has redefined the game.

“His speed… Alcaraz has redefined the game of tennis with his speed.”

“His technical knowledge of mathematics, his offensive game with a chop forehand or a drop shot — we were taught that the drop shot is a stupid shot, a chaalaki shot. My coach used to rap me on the knuckles if I played a drop shot.”

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