Olympic medal match in Atlanta defined me, says Leander Paes

The Indian tennis star relived his Atlanta 1996 bronze medal match in the Olympic Channel’s 'Great Olympic Moments' series.

By Utathya Nag

Leander Paes may have been responsible for scripting some of Indian sports’ historic highs over the past three decades, but the Indian tennis ace himself considers winning the 1996 Olympics bronze medal as the defining moment of his illustrious career.

On August 3 that year, Leander Paes created history after beating Brazilian Fernando Meligeni in the men’s singles bronze medal match. It was India’s first Olympic tennis medal and the first individual medal after 44 years.

What made the victory even more special is the fact that Leander Paes battled through a serious wrist injury, sustained during his semi-final clash against Andre Agassi, to claim his place in Indian sports’ hall of fame.

Bronze medallist Leander Paes of India, silver medal winner Sergi Bruguera of Spain and gold winner Andre Agassi at the 1996 Atlanta Games

“That contest defined me. When I walked in for the match that day, with my wrist injury, I already knew that my career would be defined by what happens in this match,” Leander Paes said during the episode.

“It was all about focus, it was about mind over matter. It wasn’t the best quality of tennis, but I wanted to make it a dogfight.

“I wanted to make this match about physical and mental aptitude because I knew technically my wrist wouldn’t allow me to battle that hard,” Paes added, recalling the contest in which he came back from being one set down to win 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.

Leander Paes was speaking during a session on the Olympic Channel’s Great Olympic Moments series, where some of the defining memories of Olympic history are showcased.

Emotions take over 24 years on

Saying what the medal means to him even 24 years later, Leander Paes stated, “The 30 years of tennis I played, winning the Olympic medal was the epitome of my career.”

“Not every human being gets the chance to be an Olympic champion, to represent their flag and the people at that stage. There’s something about the Olympic movement that’s magical.

“My win wasn’t just for me or my family, it belonged to every kid on the planet who has the dream to become a champion. If I can be an Olympic champion, so can you,” an emotional and teary-eyed 47-year-old Paes added.

On the landmark day, Paes, an 18-time Grand Slam winner believes, he realized more than his dream. Personally, it was the vindication of a greater calling.

“Every human being comes to this world with a purpose and I believe my purpose was to show people, youngsters, that if you dream big and have the fearlessness to go after your dreams, work hard and believe in yourself, you can be a champion no matter where you come from.”

How to watch Great Olympic Moments

Fans can catch episodes of the Great Olympic Moments on the Olympic Channel website, its mobile apps and on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV and the Roku platform.