A Winner All The Way
Rohan Bopanna is an inspiration for all sportspeople
Rohan Bopanna is modern tennis’ marvel. At an age when most players have long since retired he is not only carrying on around the ATP circuit but is also winning doubles events at Grand Slams. Not just that he has also become the oldest player to be ranked No, 1 and turns 44 years old in about five weeks.
Bopanna is the prime example of the saying “age is just a number” and living proof that “there is no substitute for experience.’’ The latter quality is best seen on court when he analyses situations.
He proceeds to act upon it darting this way and that on court displaying the energy and reflexes of a man 20 years younger. The only thing that gives his age away is the grey stubble on his face, but in a way that gives him an intimidating look.
However, that is only in his appearance, for Bopanna’s behaviour is exemplary, very much like that of a middle aged man that he is. It is over 20 years now since Bopanna turned pro and when he had only limited success in singles play around the ATP circuit he turned to doubles – both men’s and mixed - and became a specialist.
In this he has turned out to be the logical successor to Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, And like Paes he has had his successes in singles in the Davis Cup. For many years he partnered Somdev DevVarman while Paes and Bhupathi were the doubles team.
The most significant win in Bopanna’s Davis Cup career was when he clinched the decisive singles against Brazil in the World Group qualifier at Chennai in 2010. India were 0-2 down after the opening singles but Paes and Bhupathi gave them an opening by winning the doubles. DevVarman then won the first of the reverse singles but it was Bopanna who emerged as the hero winning the final rubber.
Bopanna partnered with many players around the ATP circuit on his way to winning several titles – he has 24 till now - but struck up a particularly good rapport with Pakistan’s Aisam-ul-Huq Quereshi. The two became known as the Indo – Pak Express and they complimented each other’s game admirably.
It was a combo good enough to reach their first Grand Slam final at the US Open in 2010. The 16th seeds produced tennis of a really high order in reaching the title clash where they went down to the world no 1 pair and top seeds the Bryan brothers in two closely fought sets. By this time the big serving Bopanna was at the peak of his game and his height (6 feet, 4 inches) proved to be an asset.
In the second decade of the new millennium Bopanna was one of the leading doubles players in the game whoever he partnered with. He made it to the ATP Tour finals in 2012 and 2015, Wimbledon semifinals in 2013 and 2015 and the US Open final in 2010.
Bopanna was also faring well in mixed doubles making it to the US Open semifinals in 2015 and the Australian Open final in 2018. And in 2017 partnering Canada’s Gabriela Dabrowski he won the mixed doubles title at the French Open making him the fourth Indian to win a Grand Slam title following Paes, Bhupathi and Sania Mirza.
As he went past 40 in 2021, Bopanna found he was going nowhere. There was a slump in his game and he wasn’t winning anything. “I know a couple of years ago I sent my wife Supriya a video message and said that I was going to call it a day because I wasn’t winning matches at all. I went five months without winning a match. I thought that was going to be the end of my journey. But perseverance inside me just kept me going and it helped me change so many things,’’ Bopanna recalled.
Sure enough his fortunes too changed for the better. There was a sudden resurgence in his game symbolised by the results particularly at Grand Slam events.
Bopanna made it to the finals of the French Open in 2022 and the following year entered the Wimbledon semifinals and the US Open final making him at 43 the oldest to figure in a Grand Slam title clash. For good measure he also made it to the mixed doubles final at the Australian Open.
And just a few days ago came his crowning glory when Rohan became the oldest to win a Grand Slam title and the oldest to become world No 1. It really constituted an incredible effort of not giving up and pushing himself to the limit - and beyond.
Bopanna’s first Grand Slam men’s doubles title has come his way after 61 attempts and he has had 19 partners before accomplishing the feat. Truly, a supreme example of perseverance paying off. As his partner Matthew Ebden of Australia put it, “age is not a number for this guy. He is young at heart, a champion and a warrior.’’
Now as he approaches the mid 40s Bopanna has new peaks to conquer and more laurels to achieve. Moreover his triumph is just the shot in the arm that Indian tennis needs.
The glorious days of the Krishnans and the Amritrajs are long gone. The Indian team is going nowhere when it comes to the Davis Cup. The leading players do not figure prominently in the rankings, nor around the ATP Circuit, languishing in the Challenger or Futures tournaments.
Sumit Nagal did raise some hopes by making it to the second round of the Australian Open after defeating a seeded player, the first Indian to do so in 35 years. But it is Bopanna’s triumph that could really matter in the final analysis.