Paes & Stepanek: Band Of Brothers
Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek have formed "an endless friendship". The "brothers" and "comrades" are focused on winning the only big title missing from the Indian's collection.
This is nothing short of a bromance. With the exception of the identical twins, Bob and Mike Bryan, is there a doubles team on the Greenwich Peninsula with a closer bond than Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek? Professional tennis can be a brutal place - "this is my job," Paes has said, just in case you thought he had mistaken the ATP World Tour for a country club - but that doesn't mean you can't form strong friendships along the way.
Paes and Stepanek don't have the same genes, but they do have the same approach to tennis and to life. Listen to Paes and Stepanek speaking about the other, and they are just as likely to be using the words "my brother" and "my comrade" as they are to be describing the player next to him as "my doubles partner". "Our partnership is based on our endless friendship," Stepanek said of the Czech-Indian pairing, who have qualified for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals for the second consecutive season. "That's something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. We're going to stay as close as brothers. That's one of the nicest things tennis is giving us."
Their friendship is built on their successes on the ATP World Tour and at the Grand Slams - their victory at this year's US Open made 40-year-old Paes the oldest man in the Open era to win a major. But also on adversity; they are closer now than they were before Stepanek had a spinal operation at the beginning of the year. Paes received approaches from other players, offering to form new partnerships, but he wasn't interested. "I had lots of phone calls to play with other guys, but that's not what you do," said Paes, a former doubles World No. 1. "What you do is stand by your partner. I have tremendous belief in him. I'm very proud of the partner I share the court with. He's probably the best partner I have had."
Stepanek appreciated the commitment that Paes had shown in him: "I never lost the belief that I would come back and Leander was always in my corner waiting for me."
For Paes, one of the special moments of the year came in Eastbourne when he woke up on his birthday. Usually, he has his daughter with him on his birthday, but that wasn't possible. And none of Paes' team could be there either, because of commitments elsewhere. "It was early in the morning. I can't remember exactly what time. It was cold, it was drizzling, it was wet. I was very lonely and very sad. But Radek woke me up, and we went for a run on the beach, like we did every morning. You have your comrade here, your brother here, and you go and do your daily things," Paes said. "When you have someone in your corner like that, and we share that, that gives me my magic on the court. No matter what happens to my backhand, or what happens to my serve, I will put my body on the line for him any time."
This week, Stepanek wants to help his buddy win the only trophy missing from his collection. "That's what I'm very focused on, that's what I would like to deliver," said Stepanek.