“It’s still sinking in,” repeated Rohan Bopanna, the newly-crowned French Open mixed doubles champion, in a telephonic interview from Paris. His bemused contentment, after having won the title with Gabriela Dabrowski on Thursday, was not hard to understand considering that this win had been a long time in the making.
Seven years to be precise, since when he and (then) partner Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi made their first run to the final of a Major, at the US Open in 2010 before losing to the eventual champions, the Bryan brothers.
An evolved player
Bopanna, however, thinks of this win in a completely different context rather than draw comparisons and parallels with his own past. “From 2010 to now, there’s a huge difference I have had as a player,” the 37-year-old said.
“Over the years, I have lost in the semi-finals in the Grand Slams. [But], it’s not a question of whether I got it now or whether I got it earlier. Right now, I am probably playing my best tennis and I have matured over the years [as to] how to play the game and how to handle [different] situations better.”
In the latter regard, Bopanna credits his doubles partner, Pablo Cuevas, with whom he teamed up at the start of the year, as being a steady influence in shaping his career better. “Consistently playing with so many experienced partners who have won big titles and Grand Slam titles, especially playing with Cuevas, I have learnt a lot. [I have seen] how he handles different situations [and] so many different scenarios where he has been in the Slams.”
Alongside building up his experience, Bopanna also mentioned that the Uruguayan has also helped him incorporate slight, but significant tweaks to his game, which bore great results during the clay season this year, starting with their win at the Monte Carlo Masters in April.
Then, according to Bopanna, “On clay, I changed the way I play a little bit. [I wasn’t] serving and volleying all the time. I was mixing it up which I think helped better my game. I adapted to the conditions better. Playing with Cuevas [has helped] my groundstrokes. I [am using] my forehand as a weapon, which [has] allowed me to bring something new to my game.”
Continuing further, he elaborated, “This has given me the advantage of giving me the option of serving and volleying or staying back and hitting a big groundstroke.”
At the end of it all, however, Bopanna believes that what has made this French Open, and the entire clay season, special is the way he has adapted to the surface. “For the past two years I have really enjoyed playing on clay,” said the Bengaluru-native. “And this has truly made a great difference. I have understood the surface better, and have understood the game [on clay] better.”
Speaking of betterment, following this win, Bopanna has marked a milestone of being the only fourth Indian player to have won Majors, after Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza. However, while Bopanna was happy to acknowledge the import of finding himself being associated on the very lines as these players, he also was quick to point out that his win was about him finally fulfilling his personal career objectives.
“It’s tremendous to be part of these three people who have won Grand Slams for India,” he said, before adding, “But, at the end of the day, you go out there to play these big tournaments. This was purely a personal goal. It was no one’s goal of how I did [and] what I did. It’s come at the right time.”
It’s perhaps this matter-of-factness of Bopanna that has allowed him to get through these near 14 years on the men’s Tour, establishing a firm place for himself on the circuit.
When asked to look back at how different things could have been and whether he would take his win at Roland Garros to erase the tougher moments of his past, fittingly as the last question, Bopanna signed off by commenting, “To be honest, there’s never, ever been any regrets. Whatever has happened has happened for a reason. When you play, [you] constantly learn, and take positives. Right now, it’s the past [and] the past cannot be changed. So, right now you look at the future and the present. That’s the only thing to look at [and] that’s for sure.”