This day, that year: Remembering Leander Paes’ 1996 Atlanta Olympics bronze medal

first_imgExactly 21 years ago, India’s tennis star Leander Paes brought home India’s first individual Olympic medal in 44 years at the Atlanta Olympics.As a 22-year-old, Paes entered the 1996 Games as a wildcard and went on to end a nation’s wait of 44 years for an individual Olympic medal.In the first match of his Olympic campaign, he lost his opening set to Richey Reneberg of USA but from there, he fought all odds, won eight straight sets to set up his semi-final clash against Andre Agassi.He lost to Agassi 7-6, 6-3 and went up against Brazil’s Fernando Meligeni for the bronze medal match. Against Meligeni, he was one set down but he fought on, rallied from behind to beat the Brazilian 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 and brought home the bronze.Paes, even today, is known as a fighter. At the age of 44, when he keeps hearing that he should now be retiring, Paes still plays and does that because he “likes to play.”Later that year, in the US Open, Paes was 6-3, 4-0 leading against Andre Agassi that led Agassi to calling him “a flying jumping bean, a bundle of hyperkinetic energy” and Paes still upholds that energy on the court, of course there’s more strategy involved now.For years, Paes has led India’s Davis Cup campaigns from the front pulling off memorable wins in ties against France, Switzerland and Croatia along the journey.Earning his fame as a doubles specialist, Paes has a rare Grand Slam of titles in both men’s and mixed doubles.advertisementWith Bhupathi the non-playing captain of the Davis Cup team now, he has chosen younger and fitter players in the team over his former partner Paes. Owing to his drop in rankings, Paes has been playing in Challenger tournament in search of victories and rise in ranking.Clearly, the fire in him is slowly diminishing; it is only natural. Yet, his Olympic bronze was a revolution; since then India have got quite some individual medals home.First individual Olympic medal in 44 years — the memory of Leander Paes with the national flag is fresh as ever.last_img