Leander Paes was born into a sporting family. His father Vece Paes, apart from being a top notch hockey player in his time, is also a doctor and accompanies the Indian Davis Cup team. Leander had a torrid time in school thanks to his tennis commitments and since Indian schools aren't always accommodating to budding prodigies, he dropped out. (Leander actually went to the same high school as I did, and my school argues that Leander failed...but Leander claims he dropped out. Anyway, it's sort of irrelevant, except to show how unsupportive the Indian system is of those who want to take up a sport professionally). Leander played a number of other sports as well- and he was said to be particularly proficient at football. But tennis being an individualistic game he stuck to it.
At a young age he enrolled at India's first tennis academy, the Britannia Amritraj Tennis Academy otherwise known as BAT. BAT played a key role in his early development although he later fell out with them after winning the US Open Junior title. He won two titles at the Junior Grandslam level- the US Open and Wimbledon and many believed that he had it in him to break the top 10 in the world.
Sadly, this was never to be. Leander stands at only 5 feet 10 inches, a serious disability in today's game. He lacks a big serve and his groundstrokes are suspect. What he does have are very quick hands, which accounts for his abilities at the net and in doubles. Despite this he has some memorable victories to his credit including a win over Pete Sampras at the Pilot Pen International Championships. He also won India's only medal at Atlanta with a bronze in the individual tennis singles after defeating Fernando Meligeni of Brazil. He had lost to the eventual champion Andre Agassi in the semi-finals.
Quick to realise that the modern game was too big and fast for a player of his ability, Leander focussed on doubles. Teaming up with fellow Indian Mahesh Bhupathi he enjoyed a remarkable run of success. They won three Grand Slams including a Wimbledon title and he teamed up with the legendary Martina Navratilova to win two further mixed doubles titles.
Paes was playing a first round match in Cincinnati in August when he developed a severe headache. A few days later, still in pain, Paes checked himself into hospital, where a scan revealed a cyst and inflammation on the left side of his brain. It originally was feared he might have a brain tumor but it turned out to be a brain lesion. He was off the court for many months and as a gesture of solidarity, Martina refused to play without him.
In the meanwhile his partnership with Bhupathi ended somewhat acrimoniously and though the two competed at Athens 2004 together, where they finished fourth, Paes now plays with David Rikl of the Czech Republic. He did reach the 2004 US Open final but he has been unable to re-capture the heady success of 1999-2000.
The one arena where Paes has been unchallenged has been the Davis Cup where he has a 21-12 singles record and has propelled India to some remarkable victories. He's defeated players such as Wayne Ferreira and Goran Ivanisevic (that too on grass). Paes himself believes that playing for his country brings out that little bit extra in him and accounts for his inability to produce his best in the lonelier and individualistic world of men's singles'.