I have loved following sports right from my early childhood days. I was in my 2nd standard then and kept pestering my father to tell me the scores of cricketers in the cricket matches. That was when he showed me how to look for the scores in the newspaper (my love for the news paper is immense and I guess it deserves an article solely for it, hope to write it some other day). That was when my interest in sports began. I’ve followed all the sports covered by the newspapers and the television since the early 1990s. Only when the media highlights a sport do we get to know the players or teams playing the sport and form our opinion about them. So I am bound to neglect players who belong to lesser known sports. For instance Carroms is a field in which India has often produced world champions but we know little about them because of the poor media coverage. Therefore the choice of my favourite Indian sportsperson is restricted to players from the early 90s till the present time in the so called ‘mainstream’ sports.
The players who I feel have made India proud include Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble in cricket, Dhanraj Pillay and N. Mukesh Kumar in hockey, I.M. Vijayan and Baichung Bhutia in football, Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza in tennis, Vishwanathan Anand, Koneru Humpy, P. Harikrishna and K. Sasikiran in chess, P.T. Usha and Anju Bobby George in athletics, P. Gopichand in badminton, Col. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Jaspal Rana, Anjali Bhagwat, Abhinav Bindra, Mansher Singh and Gagan Narang in shooting, Jeev Milkha Singh and Jyoti Randhawa in golf and Kunjarani Devi and K. Malleshwari in weightlifting. I’m sure I must’ve missed out quite a few names but I guess, I’ve covered the most important ones in recent times.
Now on to the main topic –My favourite Indian Sportsman is Leander Paes. I’ve been following him play tennis since a long time as his playing career began during the time I started following sports and is now almost coming to an end. Paes has been the best Indian men’s tennis player in the past two decades. He was the junior world no. 1 in tennis and won the junior Wimbledon and U.S. Open singles titles. He has also performed well in the ATP circuit achieving success mainly in doubles where he has won 7 grand slam titles. He was also the no.1 ranked payer in men’s doubles. However the achievement which sets him apart from the others is the fact that he won the Bronze medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He was also instrumental in helping India reach the Davis Cup semifinals in 1993 and also performed very well in many other Davis Cup ties.
Now one might say that many Indian sportspersons have achieved much more than him. For example Sachin Tendulkar is arguably the best batsman of our era; Vishy Anand is the world no. 1 in chess, Rajyavardhan Rathore got a silver medal in the Athens Olympics and many other players have also had great accomplishments. But when you look at other players you realize that they are all amongst the most talented in their respective fields. Leander, though the best Indian tennis player is not among the top most tennis players in the world. Though he did not achieve much success in singles tennis when playing individual tennis, whenever it came to playing as a team for the country he made a mockery of the rankings and time and again caused upsets which many would consider impossible. If people see his Davis Cup achievements, they will surely realize what I mean. His bronze medal in the 1996 Olympics was India’s first after 1980 Olympics. Such extraordinary achievements while playing for the country can be done only by people who truly love their country. This is the main reason which makes me feel that he is the greatest among the current Indian sportspersons.