Building on his Grand Slam success, Rohan Bopanna now has the extraordinary and tricky task to pick a partner for Paris Olympics 2024 from India’s men’s contingent, knowing there is not even that opportunity on the women’s side as far as India are concerned.

It was easy to get carried away, riding high on the early tennis success that Bopanna brought to 2024. Winning the first Grand Slam of the year, the Australian Open, in the men’s doubles alongside local Matthew Ebden, Bopanna not only became the oldest player to win a Grand Slam but also, at 43 years of age, reached the career high of becoming the no.1 doubles player in the world.

If success opens doors and opportunities, Bopanna, by the ATP rules, now has the luxury of an automatic selection in the men’s doubles draw at the Olympics 2024 in Paris. On the flipside, he has the arduous task of choosing amongst a plethora of Indian men’s players who will be eligible to be picked by virtue of being within the top 300 rankings as released by the ATP.

However, Bopanna’s problem is not one of choice but rather the absence of sure-fire options. Bopanna, who came close to sniffing an Olympic medal back in 2016 when he paired with Sania Mirza but lost out in the semi finals, acknowledged that the mixed doubles was not even an option in 2024. It sadly speaks to India’s dearth of not just the next best player in the women’s contingent after Sania but also, one of scouting talent, grooming, coaching and sponsorship which is a challenge commonly acknowledged by tennis pundits.

“Mixed doubles is definitely out of the question,” Bopanna acknowledged on the side of the Australian Open as his own star was rising. Having overcome many hurdles and knowing that he could have even retired at some point in sheer frustration, Bopanna knows what it takes to get here as it is important to have a strong ally.

“There is no girl (amongst Indian tennis players) ranked high enough for me, to even get there (Olympics 2024) unless maybe Sania (Mirza) has a protected ranking and she’s coming back,” he quipped.

While one could look at the scenario of Indian tennis as glass half empty, given the years that India have flown the tricolour high on the backs of Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi, Sania Mirza and Bopanna, it would appear all is not lost as far as Bopanna is concerned.

Taking matters into his own hands in a sense, to the end of filling in some gaps, at least amongst the men’s doubles contenders in the Indian game, even before the Australian Open, Bopanna founded a training programme in December last year called “Doubles Dream of India” with the explicit intent to bring together emerging talents and also, combining sponsorship for coaches and physios to travel with them.

As far as looking at options amongst the Indian men’s players, Bopanna might not have a steady partner but he was optimistic about partnering with a fellow Indian player at the Olympics as he was seeking gold, “I am definitely looking forward to competing at the Paris 2024 Olympics. We have a good bunch of guys ranked from the 60s to 140, almost 10 guys in the ranking in India right now who are playing full time doubles. I think there is a very good bunch of players who I could really choose from.”

And choice will be the conundrum for Bopanna as he gets closer to the Olympics. For India, the heartening aspect is that the Indian tennis contingent could even make it two teams at the Olympics in the men’s doubles. The Paris 2024 is set to feature 32 teams with each nation having a maximum of two teams, and Bopanna will have a chance to pick a partner of his choice, having qualified by the merit of his ranking, so long as his partner is within the top 300.

Amongst the names doing the rounds as far as Bopanna’s options are concerned include Yuki Bhambri, N. Sriram Balaji, Anirudh Chadrasekhar, Sundar Prashanth, Arjun Khade.

On the men’s singles side, Sumit Nagal’s performance at the Australian Open in the singles format where he beat the mercurial Alexander Bublik would have also sparked more interest in India’s male options though he is further away from qualification despite breaking into the top 100 as only those ranked till 56 will have a chance to compete at the Olympics.

To put things in perspective, while India could also field a second men’s doubles team at the Olympics, the gap of not only Bopanna’s age to some of the other players in the fray but also, the rankings tell a story in itself. Bhambri is ranked at 60, Bajai at 80, Vijay Sundar Prashanth at 81, Saketh Myneni at 89 and even Anirudh at 94 plus five more Indian men’s players between 100 and 150.

India’s tennis glory over the past couple of decades has centred around the big names of Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and in the women’s game, Sania Mirza. Paes is the only player to have come anywhere close to an Olympics gold, eventually picking up a bronze medal in the men’s singles at that, to set tennis amongst the more successful disciplines for India when it comes to the multi discipline competition.

Two things stand in the way to sober things up despite Bopanna’s brilliant form, perseverance and present unwavering ambitions.

Bopanna is aware that while picking his partner will be one thing, having an opportunity to warm up before the Olympics by playing a tournament or two with an Indian partner is virtually out of the cards. Not only do the players have to keep playing on the circuit to improve their rankings, it is unlikely Bopanna will be able to pair up before the next Grand Slam, the French Open, also in focus for him with his partner of one year, Ebden.

Speaking to this conundrum, he said, “Whoever I pick, we’ll be lucky if we get a tournament before the Olympics. Of course, I am hoping that they improve their rankings and we can have a chance to play before the Olympics. The French Open won’t make any difference in terms of preparing for the Olympics because I will be playing with Ebden.”

The other issue is of choosing horses of course, another factor Bopanna was already taking into account even while sensing the opportunity to lift his first men’s doubles Grand Slam at the Australian Open.

Bopanna spoke about the conditions that his potential Indian partner would have to confront and therefore, would be a consideration in who he chooses to play with while vying for the Olympic gold, which would be a first for an Indian player in tennis.

“I just need to figure out who is good on the clay court because we are going to be playing in Roland Garros for the Paris Olympics 2024,” the player who would be carrying the weight of India’s expectations and fortunes at the Olympics stated the obvious. While he has helped foster an atmosphere of healthy competition and camaraderie through his venture, Bopanna will have to go all tunnel vision with his eye firmly set on the Olympic gold.