Rohan Bopanna is happy to call himself the oldest player in the locker room. It doesn’t in any way lessen the 42-year-old’s enthusiasm to keep playing tennis. He seems to have found second wind this season, returning to the top 20 in doubles rankings for the first time in five years. He has won three titles on the Tour this year, reaching the final in some others.
Listening to his body and enjoying life off the court with family and friends have given him a new perspective. Teaming up with a new partner in Australia’s Matthew Ebden, one half of the Wimbledon doubles champions, has given Bopanna a fresh zeal.
“Today, I definitely believe how much you can focus on yourself and not on external things. I have had the best year in the past five years — to come back to top 20 and finish in top 20 at the age of 42 is amazing,” says Bopanna. “The biggest thing I have learnt is to be your own critic.
“Whether it is 45 minutes of practice, or taking some days off during tournaments–purely on how my body feels–I am focusing on myself. Yoga has tremendously helped my mind. What has really improved is that I don’t feel rushed on court,” Bopanna said in an interview.
Despite the toll the tour takes on the body, Bopanna still finds the journey exciting.
“Travelling has become a rhythm to my life. It excites me. If you ask me to stay at home for 30 weeks I may not know what to do. Over the years I have made so many friends in different cities all over the world — I call my visits a yearly meet with friends.
“Every time I compete, I enjoy. There are aches and pains when you wake up and winning makes a difference. Playing big events matter. It’s been that kind of journey where my 3-1/2 year-old daughter watched me play.”
Bopanna had a good start to the season, combining with Ramkumar Ramanathan and then stepping it up with Dutch Matwé Middelkoop. But not having a regular partner on the circuit has its disadvantages.
“We (him and Ebden) will look to play the Grand Slams and make it to the Masters. We are at a career juncture in our lives where we want to do well in these tournaments. These are realistic goals. Middelkoop and I started so late–almost mid-season–and we still had an outside shot to qualify for Masters.”
There will be no compromise as far as listening to his body is concerned. Despite reaching French Open semi-final with Middelkoop, he skipped the Wimbledon to get some rest.
“It’s not about prize money. If it is taking that much toll on my body, I would rather spend three weeks at home with my family. I simply love grass courts and Wimbledon. I played till Queens but then to play best-of-five sets for no points and push my body… So, it was a rest. Then I went to the Hamburg final, Washington semi-final.”
Grooming talent at his academy
It is not only his own game that occupies Bopanna’s mind these days. Having opened the Rohan Bopanna Tennis Academy (RBTA) in Bengaluru, he always looks to provide the best platform to aspiring players.
“We have a good young group coming up. We have amazing talent. We are just not nurturing them enough in the country. We need a structure, and I’ve been saying this for years. India is too big a country to have one or two centres. We need it in every state. We need the coaches to be educated. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of good coaches around.
“At RBTA we are doing it all ourselves with the help of Sports School that provides for hostel and education. The good part is that the youngsters are coming through a structured programme.”
Top fitness trainer Hernan Aboitiz has joined his academy. He has trained the likes of Argentina’s Juan Martin Del Potro and Diego Schwartzman. Modern tennis is about how well and fast one moves on the court and that requires guidance from a top trainer, he says.
“I see that kind of movement when I see (Denis) Shapovalov; I keep wondering how it is possible. But those are teachings from a young age.” Bopanna demonstrates a simple movement to reach the ball quicker than taking two steps.
Bopanna is also happy to guide current players if they reach out. He is organising a doubles camp in Dubai from December 12 to 24 and many top Indian players are attending.