Eighteen-time Grand Slam champion Leander Paes made history in 1996 when he became the first Indian tennis player to win an Olympic medal in Atlanta. However, his dream of winning an Olympic medal could have been fulfilled four years earlier had he and Ramesh Krishnan not lost to the Australian duo of John Basil Fitzgerald and Todd Andrew Woodbridge in the quarter-finals of the men’s doubles event in Barcelona.
“When Ramesh Krishnan and I lost a chance to win an Olympic medal in 1992 after losing in the quarter-finals of the doubles competition, I realised that Ramesh was retiring and he was not going to be around for the 1996 Olympics,” Paes said during the fifth episode of ‘The Finish Line’, hosted by Asian Games gold medallist squash player Saurav Ghoshal.
“I also realised that there were no youngsters who were going to be prepared enough to win a medal in Atlanta. In 1992, I was only looking to get to the Olympics. And then when I came so close to winning a medal, I sat on the bench after we lost the quarter-finals for around two hours and 45 minutes.”
One of the greatest doubles players in the sport, Paes said after that defeat, he specifically practised for the singles competition.
“I reinvented my train of thought and decided to transform my physical strength and mental aptitude for singles competitions between 1992 and 1996,” Paes said.
In the 1996 Olympics, Paes finally went on to win a bronze in the singles competition after defeating Brazil’s Fernando Meligeni.