Leander Paes has taken a trip down the memory lane to reveal the secret of his epochal success at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. The tennis legend had earned India an individual Olympic medal after 44 years.
Few could believe that an Indian had eliminated the then best in the business Pete Sampras en route to his dream destination – the podium.
The year was 1996 and no Indian had won an individual medal at the Olympics for 44 years prior to the Atlanta Olympics. That year proved to be decisive for India as Leander Paes beat Fernando Meligeni to win a bronze medal in the men’s singles category at the Atlanta Olympics. Paes speaks about his preparation for the Atlanta Olympics and his mindset going into the tournament in the 5th episode of “The Finish Line” hosted by Asian Games Gold medalist squash player Saurav Ghosal.
To relive some of the defining moments in the history of Indian sports, India’s leading sports marketing firm Baseline Ventures has conceptualized and produced an eight-part web series titled “The Finish Line”, which documents eight defining moments from Indian sports by recreating the moment by the very athlete, who made history. “The Finish Line” is being presented by Induslnd Bank and is powered by Muse Wearables.
Paes was first drawn against a not so easy opponent in Pete Sampras, but Sampras pulled out of the tournament due to an injury and Leander was pitted against Richey Reneberg in the first round. Leander managed to put across a string of victories to set up a dream semi-final against Andre Agassi. When asked about his thought process going into the match, Leander said
“I knew I could not beat Agassi on power, I could not beat him on baseline stroke to groundstroke rally. I knew that his ability to move side to side on a baseline was cat-like hence I just had to play to my strengths to get any better of him, but during the course of the match I ended up injuring myself as the tendons of my wrist were raptured. I insisted my doctor that I wanted to continue playing hence I just wrapped my wrist and went back into the match, but that wasn’t going to help as the pain was too excruciating.”
Leander had a day off before his bronze medal playoff match against Fernando Meligeni and his doctor cautioned him to not strain his wrist too much as he could end up jeopardizing his career, but Leander persisted to follow his Olympic dream and take on Meligeni.
When asked about his physical preparation before the game and how he managed to stay positive in spite of a major injury, Paes said, “I knew that the Atlanta Olympics are going to be tough from a physical perspective as it was being played at a higher altitude, so I went through a rigorous transformation in my physical and mental strength. I was a little broken after losing to Agassi at stone water, but all the years of hard work that I had put in and the 15 years of blood and sweat I couldn’t have let all that effort go in vain as I decided to take on Fernando in the bronze medal match and keep my hopes alive of clinching an Olympic Medal for the country.”
Leander ended up winning the match 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 and bringing individual Olympic glory to the country after a long gap of 44 years.
The first season of The Finish Line will consist of eight parts wherein a sporting legend will be invited to recreate a defining moment in Indian sports in each of the episodes. The eight legends who have been confirmed are Abhinav Bindra, Viswanathan Anand, Dinesh Karthik, Pankaj Advani, Smriti Mandhana, Leander Paes, Parul Parmar and Varun Singh Bhati.