...says Leander Paes who checks up on his former tennis partner Martina Navratilova — diagnosed of breast cancer
By MARK MANUEL
Friends Forever - Martina Navratilova and Leander Paes
For Leander Paes, it’s payback time. Seven years ago, in June 2003, India’s most successful tennis player was diagnosed in Orlando, US, of having neurocysticercosis — a parasitic brain infection that took him off the tennis courts and landed him in hospital for six months. And the person who helped Leander pull through this black period and get back on his feet for a second innings, was his mixed doubles partner, the Czech-American tennis legend and former world No. 1 Martina Navratilova.
She was 46 then and he just 30, but together, Martina and Leander first won the Australian Open mixed doubles in 2003 and then Wimbledon. Their partnership spilled off the court and developed into a close friendship. And it got its first real expression when Leander lay in hospital facing a bleak future with suspected brain tumor. At that time, Martina was there for the Indian tennis ace. And in a tribute to their friendship, she refused to play the US Open mixed doubles in August 2003 with any other player.
Now it’s Leander’s turn to return the favour. Martina, you know, was diagnosed in February of having breast cancer. The devastated tennis champion said, “It was like my personal 9/11, it knocked me on my ass!” She got a lumpectomy done. But Martina hid the news from the world until last week when she went live on television to tell other women to have regular checks — and not make the mistake of putting them off as she had. Just before going on television, Martina called Leander. She didn’t tell him anything, but he caught the break in her voice. “She said, ‘I’ll call you back!’ and hung up abruptly... I sensed something was wrong,” said Leander.
He went online and was shocked to discover the truth. Leander told BT, “I called Martina and asked, ‘What can I do?’ And she replied, ‘You be my champion now... be my 9 pm call.’ Her words tugged at his heart and took Leander back to 2003, when she had stood by him in his illness. “When Martina stands behind you on court or in life, you know you can go on,” said Leander. “Every night at 9, she would call and ask, ‘How are you doing?’ And I know before that, she would have called up my doctor at 8.45 pm and got a complete report on my progress that day. Now it’s my turn to be her 9 pm call. We’ve always been one phone call away from each other. Life has turned full circle.”
Leander believes this is Martina’s way of telling women, “Stay on top of things. I’ve been healthy all my life, I workout, I’m in shape at 54... and then this happens to me. I went four years between mammograms. Everybody gets busy. But don’t make excuses. No matter how invincible you think you are, go get that bloody mammogram!” And he is confident she will get overcome her condition. “It will be like another tennis match, she’s a real champion and will win this battle... not because she’s a super athlete, but because of the kind of person she is. Somebody who’s lived life on her own terms. And to the fullest,” Leander said. But yet, he will call at 9 pm every night to make sure...
Martina Navratilova and Leander Paes
with their Winbledon mixed doubles trophies in 2003
courtesy: Bombay Times