New Delhi: His monumental achievements notwithstanding, controversies keep chasing Leander Paes but the marathon man of Indian tennis says they are nothing more than false propaganda initiated by a few of his "highly jealous" competitors.
Paes did not take any names but said the negativity that is being built around his name in recent times, is a result of a few underachievers' sinister design.
Whenever it comes to playing for nation in the Indian team at the big stage, be it Olympics, Asian Games or in Davis Cup, tennis has found itself mired in controversies.
He said he does not care what people say or think about him since he's busy writing his name in the history books, that no one can change.
"In this part of my career, most of my competitors are highly jealous. They might not understand what it takes to win 18 Grand Slams and play seven Olympics. Some competitors, you give them 10 life times, they will still not be able to achieve that. Instead of working hard, they want to knock me down," Paes told PTI in an interview during the just-concluded Davis Cup tie against Spain.
"They want to ruin my reputation by doing ulterior things, so that the perception of the public is that Leander is a bad man. It takes a whole lifetime to build a reputation and it takes one second to ruin it," he said.
Is he tired of this negativity? Does he get frustrated?
"I am a human being. But I don't deal with it now," he said in a nonchalant way.
"In this modern age of social media, I understand there will be some negativity. The people who are true and honest, whether they are good with me or not, I respect them.
"Few people are always trying to tarnish my reputation. There are some competitors out there, who are highly jealous of what I have achieved. Instead of working hard, to achieve it themselves, they realise, they can't to that quantum, so hence, let's ruin his reputation. One person will put one story here, one there and build perception," he said with disgust.
Paes said he does not care about these people, who "bark" about him, and will continue to do what he does best ?- excel on tennis courts.
"Not to worry about haters. You play your game, you run in your lane, don't enter into others' lane. I will write my name in the history books. That is fruit of your hard work.
"People believe it or not, media write or not, but the intelligent people, the knowledgeable people will see history books and I have written my name there many times and will write many more times. That can't change, you can't forge a history book and you can't change history books."
"In this modern age of living in limelight, everybody wants to be a hero. People will bark, let them bark, they will look bad themselves. I will run my race. Till a junior comes and says 'Lee I am beating you all the time', till I am winning Grand Slams, I will continue to play. I had to earn it and others will also have to earn it."
It's not just because of his frosty relationship with fellow Indian players but he has been in news for problems in his personal life too. His personal life is talked about as much as his success as tennis player.
He recently was involved in a litigation for his daughter's custody and his affairs and break-ups have also been discussed in public.
Asked why he could not be as successful in his personal relationships as he is in his professional life, Paes countered the question.
"I have been very successful in personal life but there have been a few people who were a bit greedy. Being gentle is a premium. Sometimes you have to be tough, especially in India. When you get to a position, people want to take advantage of gentleness. I am learning that in life you have to be tough with people. My conscience is clear."
Paes, who is India's most successful tennis player with 18 Grand Slam titles and an Olympic bronze medal, is routinely asked why is he still continuing playing tennis at the age of 43. Why he does not let the younger generation come in and play for the nation, why is he not stepping aside?
A few believe, he is playing for money since this is the only way he can earn his livelihood as he does not have a second career option like many of his compatriots.
Ask him about this perception, and he explains his side of the story.
"I actually lose money playing men's doubles and mixed doubles. The cost of travel with my coaches, every year when I sign up in January, I know I am going to be spending 250,000 to 300,000 dollars a year. I am spending over Rs 3 crore a year. We don't have any organisation that pays for us and there is no guaranteed salary.
"At the end of the month, you have a certain money in your pocket even if you had an ankle sprain or you were unwell. But there is no guarantee I will get back my money. The disparity in singles and doubles prize money is huge. And in doubles you share the prize money.
"If I stop playing and stay in India and start doing commentary, motivational speaking and start my academy which I will start when I am finished, it is much more lucrative for me. I do fashion clothing, own a clothing company in the last two years. So If I stop playing tennis, One -- I take away that Rs 3 crore expense, plus I am at home. It's much more lucrative. I am not even breaking even now. If I win, 2-3 Grand Slams, then only I make money. I am playing because I love to play."
"No matter what people say, I have earned the right to play my tennis."
Remind him that he had poor results on the circuit in the last two year in men's doubles and his ranking has slipped further, he said," No one can point a finger at me. I have achieved everything. Next year you watch (how the rankings improve)."