At 39 years of age, Indian doubles specialist Rohan Bopanna played a full, challenging season before a shoulder injury forced him out of the Davis Cup tie against Pakistan.
He started the year with a title at the Maharashtra Open with Divij Sharan, beginning a partnership that the Indian tennis fans were looking forward to a year before the Olympics. However, it turned out to be the only ATP trophy he won in 2019 and they had to part way because their rankings weren’t high enough to get into the bigger events.
Despite the challenges, Bopanna counts it a good season with the highlight being the fact that he was fit and healthy. “It has been a tough year but having said that I have been glad the way it finished and I enjoyed the season. As long as I am enjoying playing tennis, that is the key,” said the 39-year-old who was in the city to launch a special ASICS shoe and race day shirt for the Mumbai Marathon.
In the latter half of 2019, Bopanna formed a solid partnership with Canadian Denis Shapovalov, a player 19 years his junior. He intends to carry it on in 2020 as well, starting from Doha in January. With the Indian ATP 250 event moved to February, Bopanna will begin his season away from home for the first time.
“Trying to find the right balance of a good partnership is always the key. We tried to start early and see how it goes. Through the end of the year, it made a big difference playing with Denis, who is playing some really good tennis. We have enjoyed playing together, which is good. I am looking forward to starting the next season with him,” he said.
Bopanna, however, made it clear that he and Divij are looking to make the 2020 Tokyo Olympics cut off. “I am really looking forward to it, Divij and me are trying to play together as much as possible. Unfortunately with our ranking we can get in only 250 events, the cut-offs for Masters and 500 are tough. Having said that, we need to focus on our individual ranking to qualify for the Olympics which is right after the French Open [in May], so we have a few months,” he said.
AITA needs to communicate better
Closer home, Bopanna is part of the community the Indian players have formed through social networking. They discuss their games even when they are not playing the same tournament.
“Wherever we are, we are always in touch. We constantly give feedback and if they are playing someone I know, I try to give them advice on how to play the guy. Today we can watch these guys play at any time, which is a big advantage, I think we have a good group of players who are really trying to help each other and tennis in India,” Bopanna said.
Former Davis Cup captain Mahesh Bhupathi has played a big role in fostering this spirit. Recently, Bopanna publicly called out the All India Tennis Association for removing him as captain ahead of the Pakistan tie. He said that Bhuapthi’s experience helps the youngsters.
“I have learned a lot from him, I enjoyed playing with him and having him as part of the Davis Cup. When I started my career, he was already playing at a high level and he guided me,” the 2017 French Open mixed doubles champion said.
At the same time, Bopanna said he would have no problem playing under new captain Rohit Rajpal. “I have known Rohit for a long time and I get along extremely well with him and see no reason to having any trouble playing under him.”
However, the 39-year-old definitely has an issue with how the game is run in the country and suggested that the AITA should communicate with players better.
“There is big lack of communication between the federation and players and if that improves, it will solve many things. Federations and players need to get together and find the best scenario. We have had many issues in the past but going forward, it should only get better,” he said.
The other suggestion he had to ensure that the sport grows in India was to increase the coverage and reach of tennis. “Doubles is not shown in India unfortunately. There is nobody from media there as well when we play. Cricket, for example, is shown every day and covered so youngsters are picking it up and every sport depends on that. If a kid is watching someone play from his country, it really motivates him. Once that changes, it could make a difference I think,” said the 39-year-old, who is also mentoring youngsters through the Rohan Bopanna Tennis Academy in Bangalore.
The institution has been behind the success of reigning men’s national champion Niki Kaliyanda Poonacha. “Niki is someone who was not sure where his tennis was going about three years ago. When I met him, I was also just starting my academy so I asked him to come and see if we can help him. He had shaped up well, won the nationals, was part of the gold medal-winning team at the South Asian Games,” Bopanna said.