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After a lean 2021 season, Rohan Bopanna, India’s top-ranked men’s doubles player, has had a fairly good run in the first four months of 2022.

World No. 25 Bopanna began this season winning the first ATP 250 event of the year in Adelaide with compatriot Ramkumar Ramanathan. The pair went on to win the Maharashtra Open in Pune.

The 6-foot-4 tennis star from Bengaluru was the last man from India to win a Grand Slam title when he won the mixed doubles crown at the 2017 French Open with Canada’s Gabriela Dabrowski.

READ: Bopanna: Age cannot be a stumbling block to winning on the biggest stage

In a chat with Sportstar, the 42-year-old reflected on the first quarter of this season and his plans for the Roland Garros. He also shared his thoughts on the possibility of the Chennai Open returning to the ATP tour calendar and the way forward for Indian tennis.

Any initial thoughts on your season so far?

I am extremely happy with the way the season has gone so far, especially looking at how it was last [year]. Last year during this period of time, I hadn’t won a match up until literally this week (April), which was the Estoril week. So surely, extremely happy with the way the season has gone. Having two titles, having some good results in some big events, so that’s really wonderful and I’m really happy with it.

This season, you have played with a few singles specialists (Ramkumar Ramanathan, Denis Shapovalov and Aslan Karatsev) and also with players who primarily play doubles (Jamie Murray and Matwe Middelkoop). How do they differ? How do you adjust to their playing style?

The biggest thing that has always helped me, no matter who I played with, is to only focus on my game and not to really worry whether he’s a singles player or a doubles player. I try and see where I can adapt my game to their strengths and use my strengths in those situations. That always helps me.

At the end of the day, you just have to find a way to win these close points. Figure out who’s playing kind of a little bit better in that particular match on deuce points and maybe ask them to take it or you take the deuce points.

As far as a singles player is concerned, Karatsev was the only one who I had not played with and that was the first time but I’ve been playing with Dennis Shapovalov for a long time and you know we had some good wins. We beat the number one pair [Mate] Pavic and [Nikola] Mektic in Miami. And then I played with Jamie for the first time, and that was really a fruitful partnership. We lost a close semifinal match [against eventual champions Rajeev Ram of the US and Joe Salisbury of UK in Monte Carlo]. Even in the semifinals, we definitely were the better team, but unfortunately we could not win.

Great beginning: Rohan Bopanna began this season winning the first ATP 250 event of the year in Adelaide with compatriot Ramkumar Ramanathan.   –  Getty Images

 

This season has been very interesting with some big wins, but there’s a pair — Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski — that has beaten you three times. Would you say they are ones to beat this season? You finally beat them in Monte Carlo.

I told them after the match, “Nobody beats Bopanna four times in a row!” But having said that, yeah, they’ve been very, very consistent. They’ve been consistent throughout the season, and I think they have won three tournaments already. They made a couple of finals. They’re definitely the team doing well this season. When they’re confident like that, it’s tough to play them. You have to really find those small margins to try and beat them. That’s what happened in Monte Carlo. We played some close points which went our way and we managed to get that win. Yeah, surely they are the top team and the hottest team right now in the season so far.

India also won the Davis Cup tie against Denmark at home. The next tie is against Norway, which has a top ten player in Casper Ruud. Have you already started planning for that tie? Can you also share your thoughts on the format of Davis Cup?

Colours of pride: Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan with the tricolour after winning their doubles match to help India seal the Davis Cup tie against Denmark at the Delhi Gymkhana in New Delhi.   –  V.V. Krishnan

 

It was really nice to have a home tie. The crowd in Delhi was fantastic. It was lovely to have so many people come out and support us. Playing in India after long time, playing on grass — I’ve always loved it.

We’ve gotten used to the format. Two-day format works perfectly well, especially if you have a separate doubles team and a few separate singles guys playing it, so it kind of works out.

For every team out there, there’s not really that much of a difference. Because it’s also best-of-three sets, it’s much easier on the body, it’s easier to manage that… really happy that we got through that tie. Divij [Sharan] and I had an extremely close match.

They [Danish captain Frederik Nielsen and his partner Mikael Torpegaard] saved a couple of match… three match points. I was happy that we got the win there and especially for Divij also, to win at home. It’s a club he has grown up in and practised quite a bit, so it was nice for us to finish that tie in the third rubber itself.

We have a tough opponent in Norway and still long way to go before that because we have so many other big events before even looking at that far ahead of the season. We are still in the clay-court season and have Roland Garros. Not really looking for anything beyond that actually.

Talking about Roland Garros, have you finalised your partner?

I am playing with Middelkoop itself all the way except for Madrid because [in] Madrid, both of us could not get in because the cut-off was so strong. In Rome, Geneva and Roland Garros, I am playing with Middlekoop and I will be playing mixed doubles also, but I’m looking for a partner who I can play with and try and do well there.

How did this partnership with Middelkoop start?

Actually, it was just one event we had played in Antwerp a couple of years ago. We went to the finals in that tournament in Antwerp. So I kind of knew we got along well. Our game style suited pretty well so we said ‘why not? Let’s give it a try in the clay-court season’ but unfortunately the cuts have been so strong. Even though both our rankings are almost combined 60, we’re still struggling to get into the bracket, so that’s been a little challenging, but nevertheless, we’re trying to get as many tournaments as possible together and see how that goes.

Double impact: India’s Rohan Bopanna serves as Divij Sharan watches during their men’s doubles tennis match against Denmark’s Mikael Torpegaard and Frederik Nielsen in the Davis Cup world group 1 play-off between India and Denmark, in New Delhi. “The biggest thing that has always helped me, no matter who I played with, is to only focus on my game and not to really worry whether he’s a singles player or a doubles player. I try and see where I can adapt my game to their strengths and use my strengths in those situations — that always constantly helped me,” Bopanna said.   –  AFP

 

Do you think on clay, a team that plans better strategies wins more as compared to hard court, where if you have a very big server on your team, then you can possibly win with power? Do you think there is some basic difference while playing on clay and on hard court as a doubles team?

I don’t think that really makes that much of a difference for doubles. It’s pretty similar. The game is still pretty quick. Yeah, you know it’s not like singles that you have so many more rallies. A lot of these matches are still going into super tiebreaks like anywhere else, any other surface.

The Tamil Nadu government is trying to bring Chennai Open back. Your initial reactions to that.

I was thinking about it. It’s excellent. Chennai has always given such great support for tennis. I’ve had some very good success playing in Chennai, not only in the Chennai Open but also much earlier, playing nationals, futures and Davis Cup.

I’ve always loved playing in Chennai and I will be very happy if the tournament is back. I don’t know whether I will be playing or not by the time the tournament comes back, but still, I’m very happy to hear that they are planning to get the ATP back there. It’s a good city and [has] a lot of good tennis lovers who would love to have the tournament back.

READ: Is Alcaraz the next Nadal?

Do you think India should have more ITFs and Challengers to give the players more exposure? What do you think should be the way forward?

It’s definitely what we need. We need a minimum 30 men’s and women’s Futures, about 20 to 30 Challengers for men and women. Also, that’s the only way if we want to compete with the best in the world. Other countries hold so many more tournaments. We have to give our country that chance before we say, ‘OK, here’s an Indian, maybe competing at the highest level’.

The other biggest thing I keep saying is that tennis has to be shown in India. This is one thing lacking. There’s one Indian playing an ATP250 event or in an ATP Masters, for example, out of a billion people and if you’re not able to show that match, how do you encourage young athletes?

How does a young athlete even know that there is somebody from their own country even playing? These are small things which make a difference.

I’ve been saying this over and over again for a long time. Unfortunately, the only way it will change is when there is visibility for your sport.

Like any other sport, there is growth when there is visibility. That is what is needed for tennis as well and it’s not just about showing tennis [with] the top guys playing. If there’s a countryman playing, it’s very important to get that also broadcast and that’s surely the right step forward for the sport to grow.

Little joys: Rohan Bopanna with wife Supriya and daughter Tridha. “My wife and daughter have been travelling to Australia and now my daughter understands that I play a little tennis. She keeps asking me why I keep going to the tennis court and why I’m playing tennis so much,” said Bopanna on travelling with the family for tennis tournaments.   –  Special Arrangement

 

Any fun experience that has happened to you this season or any other memorable incident across the tournaments that have you played so far that you think the readers might love to know?

The good part is that everything is finally open. We don’t have to do Covid tests anymore. Doing all those PCR tests… 150-160 PCR tests… Getting your tests done every two days in different countries, getting the reports… Definitely happy that we don’t have to do that anymore that often and maybe just once in a while.

It’s good to have the fans back. To be honest, that is the biggest fun thing about playing this sport.

I get to travel with the family. My wife and daughter have been travelling to Australia and now my daughter understands that I play a little tennis. She keeps asking me why I keep going to the tennis court and why I’m playing tennis so much.

You kind of build a family outside your family when you keep travelling because you constantly see them during that particular tournament once a year like it may be the US or UK or wherever it may be. So that is something I missed for two years. Going into the country, but not able to see them. So, it’s now nice again to meet those friends. The biggest thing is I love exploring the city so I can go and start exploring some coffee shops.

Federer and Nadal are returning after injury breaks. Federer is 40 and Nadal will be turning 36. And then there is someone like Ash Barty who took retirement at 25. What’s your perspective on this situation. What does it say about the changing narrative in the world of sports when it comes to age and retirements?

It’s a purely individual choice, to be honest. It’s how you feel. At the end of the day, it’s not easy travelling week in, week out, living out of a suitcase, eating every meal in a restaurant. It takes a toll. Even though it sounds glamorous from the outside, it’s not easy because you’re away from family and friends. Each individual looks at life differently.

Also, during the pandemic, a lot of people have gotten to reflect on what they really enjoy, what they missed and all that. Having said that, it’s very difficult to say whether they want to retire or keep going… At the end of the day, it really comes down to purely the individual decision because you never know where the mindset is. As long as the mind is healthy, you want to travel [you carry on].

The mind says, ‘You know what? I don’t want to travel anymore. I just want to stay at home. I enjoy being home more.’ That’s what it boils down to.

And then, everybody has goals — different goals, different mindsets. That athlete or that person has decided, ‘OK, this is my goal. I’ve achieved that. OK, I’m done.’ I don’t think that’s something anyone else can talk about or figure out.

Parimatch

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