World No.1 again next week, Rohan Bopanna is not going to take it easy in weeks leading up to the Paris Olympics

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

At a time when most elite Indian athletes preparing for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games may be a bit conservative in their approach vis-a-vis how much to compete before the quadrennial extravaganza, Rohan Bopanna has his own approach.

‘Level 44’ Bopanna, as he calls himself, will be playing the men’s doubles final tonight at the Miami Open, US, an ATP 1000 Masters Series event, with Australian Matt Ebden against Ivan Dodig and Austin Krajicek in Florida. The match starts at 10-00 p.m. (IST).

Speaking to RevSportz from Miami, the Indian ace sounded relaxed. When prodded on what it felt to be ranked No.1 again next Monday when the ATP releases its list, Rohan was calm. “I think the way things are going for me, I have every reason to be happy. It’s a state of being calm and happy, but I am focused not to let all this affect me. If you had asked me at the start of 2023 if I was going to be here, the answer is a no,” he said.

It is one thing to achieve success and quite another to deal with it in a mature way. This is where Rohan comes across as a champion with his head on strong shoulders. “I have been through this grind for decades, I cannot lose sight at all. The way Matt and I have teamed up, rocked at the Australian Open and then re-grouped has been fantastic. We will look to go full tilt in the 2024 season,” Rohan said.

Working on physical fitness where a personal trainer plus Iyengar yoga comes in handy for Rohan. He is looking at playing seven weeks before the Olympic Games. He does not get flattered when comparisons are made between him and legendary Leander Paes, a doubles artist who had done extremely well at the ATP 1000 series Masters events. These are the only Indians who have reached the final of ATP masters events.

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Rohan Bopanna
Rohan Bopanna (Image: X)

“Yes, I will be playing the three Masters events in Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome. This will serve as the right build-up for the French Open. I will definitely be playing Queen’s (grass court warm-up) before Wimbledon,” Rohan said.

Unlike many other sport where qualification for Paris means a player can take focus on training and go easy on competition, the scenario is different in tennis. The dynamic ATP ranking cycle means, Rohan has to go whole hog. A high ranking is what doubles specialists crave for. “To be inside the Top 10 is great but if I can stay No. 1 is very important. There is no way I can relax, before the Olympics cut-off,” he said.

He is well aware how the All India Tennis Association bungled before the Tokyo Olympics and he could not go to Japan. Back then, he literally pleaded with AITA that they speak to the International Tennis Federation (ITF) as he saw a window of opportunity to go to Tokyo. There was a total lack of communication at that time in 2021, where Rohan was left in tears. He had unfinished business on hand, having lost the bronze medal playoff with Sania Mirza in mixed doubles at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Rohan will get enough opportunities to tune his game on clay, the same surface where the Olympic competition will be played. Even now, he has not dropped even a hint on who he wants as partner in Paris. “There are enough Indians slogging hard out there. We can still wait. I had asked AITA to ensure the long list which is sent to the Indian Olympic Association has all the names of doubles players who could make the cut. I am hopeful we could even have two pairs, still, if results keep coming in,” he said.

Rohan Bopanna and Matthew Ebden
Rohan Bopanna and Matthew Ebden (PC: X)

In many sport, winning a quota place means, the berth is for the country. Not in racquet sport like badminton and tennis. “There can be no trials in tennis. I mean where are we going to find the clay courts to even hypothetically think of a trial,” Rohan said, hitting the nail on its head.

Going by history of Indian tennis teams and the Olympics, there is plenty of bad news. Rohan was a victim on a few occasions, though he prefers to focus on the present and the immediate future. As a player within Top 10, if he wishes to choose his partner, the AITA must respect it.

“Honestly, my communication with the AITA is through email. Before competing in the Paris Olympics, I hope I will be able to play at least one tournament with my Indian partner, whoever it is,” Rohan said modestly.

The Coorgi’s maturity is so high, he shows enormous respect to other practitioners of doubles tennis from India. Love All, a phrase borrowed from tennis, is his mantra.

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