The story till then
Leander Paes first came to prominence as a 16-year-old, when he partnered Zeeshan Ali in the doubles in a Davis Cup tie against Shuzo Matsuoka and Shigeru Ota of Japan in Chandigarh in early 1990. Over the years he developed a reputation as a miracle worker in the annual team competition, pulling off memorable wins in ties against France, Switzerland and Croatia along the way.
When Paes entered the men's singles draw at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics as a wildcard, not many Indians would have expected him to go as far as he did in the draw. He lost his opening set to Richey Reneberg of USA, but then stitched together eight successive sets to set up a semi-final clash with Andre Agassi. He would lose to Agassi 7-6, 6-3, before overpowering Brazil's Fernando Meligeni in three sets to win what was India's first individual Olympic medal in 44 years. It created a unique double for the Paes family, as Leander's father Vece had won a bronze with the Indian hockey team at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.
"Standing [on the podium] in Atlanta in 1996 with the tricolour was a very proud feeling."
- Leander Paes
"On the day in Atlanta at the 1996 Olympics, as he battered stuttering form to win bronze, the strangest thing happened. I cried... You cared because he cared. Because he was technically defective, and too short, and his game too high risk, but he'd fight every flaw, he'd front every challenge, he'd tilt wildly at windmills... He moved you because when he played for India he did that simplest of things. He tried."
- Rohit Brijnath, sportswriter
The story since
Leander Paes showed glimpses of his ability in the US Open a month later, leading Agassi in their second-round match 6-3, 4-0 at one stage - a performance that led Agassi to calling him "a flying jumping bean, a bundle of hyperkinetic energy" - before losing 18 of the next 19 games. Though he won an ATP Tour title in Newport - and also enjoys a head to head of 1-0 against Pete Sampras - Paes made his fame as a doubles specialist, completing a rare Grand Slam of titles in both men's as well as mixed doubles.