Will put my best foot forward for country: Paes

Pune: He might be at the twilight of his career and forced to play with a new partner at the eleventh hour, but veteran tennis star Leander Paes continued to wear his heart on his sleeve, saying he will put his best foot forward during the Davis Cup encounter between India and New Zealand starting here on Friday.

“I will put my best foot forward for my country, no matter what it is. I feel sorry for Saket (Myneni). No athlete wants to be injured coming into such an important event,” said Paes about the last-minute change in the squad that will see him partnering Vishnu Vardhan and not the injured Myneni in the doubles rubber of the Asia-Oceania Group I round one tie commencing on Saturday.

“Saket is one hell of a tennis player and a great guy.

The last time we played against Spain, I really enjoyed playing with him. He came up to me on Wednesday and said he was very sorry for what happened. We all wish him a speedy recovery. He is one of the pillars of the team. We hope he is back,” said the 43-year-old Cup veteran who is one doubles win away from overtaking Italian Nicola Pietrangeli.

Asked about him being on the cusp of setting a new Cup record, Paes said it was not only important to him but also to the entire nation.

“Record is important to the country (too). I played my first Davis Cup tie on February 2 in 1990 with (current team coach) Zeeshan Ali. Now it is 27 years that I have been playing. The reason I play Davis Cup is because I love to play for the people, for the flag and equally importantly for the team.

“I am so proud of everyone (team members) standing beside me. I have to give a shout out to Yuki (Bhambri). We were all in a tough position on Thursday (due to Myneni’s inability to play the tie). ‘I believe Yuki you were asked whether you could play singles as well as doubles’ and Yuki said ‘if its required after my Friday match I will come forward and play.’ I am very proud of Yuki. It speaks very highly of him.”

He also revealed that it was he who wanted to make the first call to the country’s top-most ranked doubles player Rohan Bopanna despite the two not being the best of friends but he was prevented from doing so.

“I said I would be very happy to make that first call to Rohan. I was asked not to,” said Paes, who refused to reveal who stopped him from making the call.

“There were three people who spoke to him and I was not one of them. I don’t know exactly what happened,” said team captain AnandAmritraj and gave a one word reply “yes” when further asked whether he would have wanted him to play.

“In Davis cup doubles is always crucial. It’s important to have the best team we could find. We did play what was the best team in this Olympics (Paes and Bopanna). Out of four singles we need to win two at least and the doubles. They (New Zealand) have a very good doubles team and that’s their strength, in my opinion.

“Saket’s foot was not good last evening. We wanted a replacement and we got a good one. Leander and Vishnu will play doubles. Luckily he (Vishnu) was available, he was supposed to play in Kazakhstan. Fortunately he did not get his visa,” he added. (PTI)

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