Matthew Ebden is a new face for tennis watchers in India and in the Indian community. When he decided to add India to his tour this year and play the Maharashtra Open in Pune, the Bengaluru Open and then the Dubai Duty Free Championships, he had not realised that in a short time, Indian fans would be chanting his name in doubles matches. Of course, he has taken some prized scalps in his singles career, but even he was quick to admit, and ever so graciously, that it was down to the man he had called his partner since February, Leander Paes.
Catching up with the Australian on the sidelines of the quarterfinals in Dubai, it sounds like we are at a party. Music is blaring, people are buzzing. They have finished their match, and while they did not secure a win, it is a momentous occasion for Leander as he bids farewell to the Dubai crowds and the pro tour at the end of the year.
I ask him for an assessment of their matches. “Lots of success. 6 or 7 wins – the second seeds in Dubai, other top 50 players. We have combined well and had a lot of fun. It’s been interesting with the extra vibe and the extra support and the media attention”, he says. Hugely complimentary to Leander, he wants the world to recognise the wonderful career that Leander has enjoyed. “It’s great to celebrate people even if they have had one-tenth of the success that Leander has had. It’s important to recognise the contribution that people have made to tennis – the blood, sweat and tears, toil, travel that they have given to the game, their country, Davis Cup.” He thinks that somewhere over time, other than the super achievers like Sampras and Agassi, we end up taking things for granted when people retire.
Leander had mentioned in Pune that they had been trying to connect for a while and that it finally came together this year. Matt corroborates the story. “In the last few years, Lee had asked me to play with him and I asked him too, but we never played the same tournaments or I was playing only singles or we had already committed to a different partner. So when I saw that this was going to be his last year, I messaged him straight away. Lee said ‘let’s do it’ and then asked about Dubai. I had nothing scheduled that week and we went for it. Its been good and hopefully we get to play a few more tournaments during the year.”
So what’s to come? He says, “There are a few options. Nothing is confirmed as yet. Maybe Lee has a chance for one or two of the Masters or maybe later in the grass court season, perhaps Wimbledon. Would love to play Wimbledon together. Or may the Newport Hall of Fame or Washington.” He acknowledges that it took some doing but now the pair have found their groove. He is excited to play more.
When I ask about the experience of playing in India, he is all about the superlatives. “It’s been extra special and extra fun. Playing doubles with Lee made it possible to create a deeper connection and creating a lifelong friendship and hopefully we will be doing things together in the future in tennis and in life.”