Picking Sriram Balaji as my partner was not an easy choice, says Rohan Bopanna

Rohan Bopanna
Rohan Bopanna (Source: X)

If an Olympic medal could be given for preparation and commitment alone, Rohan Bopanna would be the first Indian to get it.  As ‘Level 44’ Bopanna prepares for the Paris 2024 Olympics, the amount of effort he has put in, not just in terms of his own results on the professional tour but finding the right ‘partner’ from India, the tall and strapping Coorgi has shown how fair he is.

He knew way back in January 2024, when in melting Melbourne, Matt Ebden and the Indian won the Australian Open, this year would be good for him. That was about himself and bringing glory for India, but the bigger chapter was qualifying for Paris and ensuring the best Indian partner could be picked. Sure enough, when Rohan Bopanna finished at World No.4 after the French Open, the cut off date came into play. The Indian doubles star got to select his partner, and it was Sriram Balaji.

Was the decision to name a partner, which, of course, got approval from the All India Tennis Association (AITA), easy? No way. In an exhaustive interview with RevSportz from London on Saturday, Bopanna opened up. No bias, no malice, he picked a partner who would be the best for India as a medal hope in doubles tennis.

RevSportz: How tough was it for you to pick Balaji as your partner for the Paris Olympics?

Rohan Bopanna: It was a very hard decision and made after plenty of thoughts, interactions and getting inputs from people who know  doubles’ tennis the best. There were two guys over the last six weeks who had a chance to partner me, Yuki Bhambri and Sriram Balaji. I spoke to Scott (Davidoff) and Bala (coach M.Balachandran) for their inputs as they have worked with all of us as well. In the conditions at Roland Garros, I needed a partner who could be fast, as I am not so agile (now). Those factors helped make the decision as Sriram Balaji has the right game for clay, and a big serve. It has always helped me when I have a partner with such a style of big serve. Also, Bala (M.Balachandran) is a fantastic guy, so he will be there in Paris with us as well.

RevSportz:  Take us back to the recent time when you held a doubles camp in Bengaluru and brought over almost every Indian who plays doubles?

Rohan Bopanna: The doubles camp was my idea, we had the best facilities, the best coaches and the physios as well for recovery. At my age, minus a physio and trainer, I am dead! The week-long camp served its purpose in Bengaluru, as all the players gained from the high intensity. As a senior pro, I like to take the lead.

RevSportz: Will you be able to play with Sriram Balaji before Paris 2024?

Rohan Bopanna: Yes, after the grass-court season, both of us plan to play in Hamburg and Umag, and then head to Paris. Playing in Roland Garros will be special.

RevSportz: You missed the cut for the Tokyo Olympics three years ago and were upset?

Rohan Bopanna: I still feel I was distinctly unlucky not to have been there in Tokyo. The AITA could have made some effort and I had a realistic chance. But then, talking of the past does no good, I have to focus now, on the grass-court season,  Wimbledon and then the Paris Olympics.

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Rohan Bopanna and Matthew Ebden in Miami Masters
Rohan Bopanna and Matthew Ebden in Miami Masters (PC: X)

RevSportz: Your memories from your last Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2016?

Rohan Bopanna: How can I forget Rio. Yes, I played doubles with Leander Paes and the preparations were not enough. What happened then, everyone knows, zero preparation. The realistic chance was for Sana Mirza and me in mixed doubles. We played well but in that bronze medal play-off against Radek Stepanek and Lucie Hradceka,  it was heart-break. To get over it was so hard for both Sania and me. To say it was just one of those bad days would be easy. No, it was very hard for all of us, plus those watching us live.

RevSportz: Why is it that you have kind of had to fight all your way in your career. The 2012 London Olympics, where you and Mahesh Bhupathi played, there was so much rancour?

Rohan Bopanna: I mean, there is no doubt, at peak, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi were the best. Yes, Mahesh wanted to play with me and there was so much drama over it. To be playing on grass at Wimbledon, the venue for the London Olympics was special. In terms of our game, Mahesh and I, years back, complemented each other well.

RevSportz: What are the emotions of playing for India, for so long, in the Davis Cup, the Asian Games and now the Paris Olympics. Can you take us through it?

Rohan Bopanna: It has been a privilege and honour to represent India all these years. I have played with most of the best players, Leander, Mahesh and Sania included. As far as my Davis Cup career is concerned, I gave it a 100 per cent, when I played singles and then shifted to doubles. The tie in Lucknow last September was my last Davis Cup, but in a short gap I was with the team at the Asian Games in Hangzhou (China). When I went to China, I was the senior pro, I had to look at all the players there as a family. The icing on the cake was winning a gold medal with Rutuja Bhosale in mixed doubles.

RevSportz: You have dealt with fitness in the most inspirational way and continue to inspire many by playing competitive tennis at 44. How does it happen?

Rohan Bopanna: There are no short-cuts, really. Tennis is an extremely physical sport and for me, given my height and game, fitness is paramount. I would be dead without a physio and I am glad I will have my physio Rebecca (Van Orshaegen) in Paris. I have to put in a lot of hard work, I have no cartilage in my knees. The physio sessions, strengthening and stretching are part of the process. Yes, yoga has helped me as well. That’s why I am still pushing Level 44!

RevSportz: An Indian is doing well in singles out there, your thoughts on Sumit Nagal and if he can make it to France?

Rohan Bopanna: I have followed Sumit closely for long. The kind of effort he is putting in, fantastic. He has played with dedication, and done the right thing to pick a good support staff. Results can be seen. I am very positive, he will make the cut for singles in Paris 2024, we just have to wait.

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