Leander Paes back to lead defending World Team Tennis champion Washington Kastles
By Matt Breen,
The hardest part is the traveling, Leander Paes said. And earlier this week, the Washington Kastles captain faced a bit of a challenge.
Paes left Wimbledon around midnight Sunday after he and partner Elena Vesnina lost to Mike Bryan and Lisa Raymond, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, in the mixed doubles final. He didn’t sleep much at his hotel, woke up early and boarded a flight to Southern California.
By the time he checked into his hotel Monday, it was already 4:30 p.m. The Kastles would be leaving for their season opener in just a half hour.
“I had time for a shower and a change,” said Paes. “I didn’t have the chance for any lunch, then got to the stadium at 5:30, practiced on the court and got ready to play.”
The tennis seems to come easier for the reigning male MVP of World TeamTennis. Paes has played in three major finals this season and capped a doubles career Grand Slam in January, when he and partner Radek Stepanek pulled off a stunning upset of Americans Bob and Mike Bryan at the Australian Open.
A native of India, Paes helped lead the Kastles to a 16-0 record last season and their second league title. It was the first undefeated season in the league’s 36-year history. The Kastles, who extended their unbeaten streak to 18 Wednesday with a 20-18 victory over the Springfield Lasers, open their home schedule Thursday against Martina Hingis and the New York Sportimes.
Last season, Paes finished as the league’s top-ranked men’s and mixed doubles player as he compiled a 12-4 record.
After the conclusion of World TeamTennis this summer, Paes, the ATP’s fifth-ranked doubles player, will be back in London for his sixth consecutive Olympic Games. He has been to more Games than any other tennis player and any other Asian athlete.
Paes, 39, is a second-generation Olympian, as his father and mother both represented India at the 1972 Games in Munich. His father, Vece Paes, won a bronze medal in field hockey while his mother, Jennifer Paes, captained the women’s basketball team.
“If you go back to ’72, that’s when the situation happened between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” Paes said. “The Games were shut down for 48 hours and I was conceived in Munich. I’m an Olympic baby.”
Along with Paes, the Kastles will rely this season on returning players Bobby Reynolds and Arina Rodionova. The team will feature marquee players Venus and Serena Williams; Venus is slated to play twice, Serena once.
The 22-year-old Rodionova is a native of Russia and is the reigning women’s rookie of the year and the MVP of last season’s finals win over St. Louis. She’s joined this season by her older sister, Anastasia, who will be representing Australia at the Olympics.
“The star of this team is the team, regardless if Serena is on it, Venus is on it, Leander is on it,” Coach Murphy Jensen said. “We unselfishly look out for each other.”