We aren’t the Les Blues, but we sure do bleed blue! And nothing to celebrate the spirit and diversity of India than to look to our brave sportsmen and women to bring happiness, cheer and a feeling of normalcy in this time. With IPL underway, its time to look towards the terra battue of gay Paris! Though being played at an unusual time of the year (they are calling it an autumnal diversion!), the Roland Garros is making a concerted effort to host tennis players and limited spectators to its 2020 edition.

The Indian team comprises the sole female player – Ankita Raina, and the male contingent of Rohan Bopanna, Sumit Nagal, Prajnesh Gunneswaran, Ramkumar Ramanathan, and Divij Sharan. While Rohan and Divij make it straight into the main draw, playing with Denis Shapovalov and Soonwoo Kwon, respectively, our singles players find themselves facing the fairly arduous task of making it through the qualifying draw.

Sumit squares off against good friend Dustin Brown in R1, while Prajnesh takes on Turkey’s Cem Ilkel. If Prajnesh is able to beat Ilkel, he might take on the 17yo Spanish phenom – Carlos Alcaraz in R2. Ramkumar plays a local French WC Tristan Lamasine, while the women’s draw is expected to be released on Monday.

Speaking to Ankita on her clay court preparations and the time spent during the lockdown, she said that she has used her time well. “I have worked out more during the lockdown which will help me physically in the long run. There was no special plan for Roland Garros as after we got permission to play tennis we had to deal with the monsoons, so playing on hard courts was the only choice. But I did manage to play a few matches on clay this month.” These matches were on the ITF tour and she played on clay in Prague and Cagnes-Sur-Mer. She does express some concern, rightfully so, and says, “most of us have been in this situation and not had enough matches as there were very few tournaments considering the coronavirus, so I feel it’s tough for most of us.” 

Ankita had squared off against the teenage phenom Coco Gauff in Paris last year

India No 1 and World No. 127, Sumit, who was training in Germany at the Nensel Tennis Academy during the lockdown in India, has been in the spotlight recently, having made his main draw entry this year into the US Open after Rafa Nadal pulled out due to concerns over the virus and public health situation. It was a momentous occasion for us Indian tennis fans, having waited 7 years to see our players make it beyond round 1 – the last being Somdev Devvarman. 

Speaking to Josh Meiseles, Sumit said to the ATP, “We started training in the middle of April and I feel really good about my game now, with all the work we put in. In a way, I took this break as a positive for myself. It was easy on my body. I was in one place for the first time in almost 10 years. It just never happens as a tennis player. There were some days that weren’t easy, just not knowing when we’re going to return to the tour. It was a very different lifestyle. But there comes a point where enough is enough. I really want to travel again and play matches. It’s what we all train for. I’m excited to get in the competitive mode again.”

Freshly peroxide blonde and garnering a fair bit of attention from new fans, we hope to see Sumit excel on his favourite surface after having competed at the challengers in Prague and taken the first set of Stan Wawrinka in the quarter finals much to our delight.

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Sumit at 2018 RG Qualies

Divij, coming fresh of a good run in Prostejov, where he and partner N. Balaji, had a very close defeat in the finals, seemed to have made the most of the lockdown and his instagram gave us some interesting insights into his life and garden, said, “The lockdown gave me a chance to spend some time with my wife and experience what normal life might be to not live off a suitcase. I don’t think I’ve stayed at one place this long since I started playing tennis tournaments. Most of the time was spent under restrictions and I didn’t have access to my coaches or trainers so I couldn’t train as much as I would have liked but the time off was definitely rejuvenating. Divij plays in the ATP challenger in Forli this coming week with Kwon which should certainly help him gear up for Paris.

Divij at 2019 French Open

The one who has perhaps had the toughest time during the lockdown has been Prajnesh, who has been in Chennai and only started to practice roughly 3 months ago after the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association granted permission. Prajnesh only recently flew to Kitzbühel after the heartbreak of missing out on a main draw showing for the US Open by one spot. While he lost in the second round of the qualifiers to a young Swiss player, he appears to be in good shape.

Prajnesh at 2019 Roland Garros

The one who appears to be in fantastic nick going into the slam is Rohan Bopanna. After two successive quarter finals, at New York and in Rome, beating quality pairings of Cabal and Farah and Krawietz and Mies, Bopanna and Shapovalov are high on confidence and give us the best chances of a deep run. 

He mentions how fortunate and thankful he is to the slams, the ATP, and for the powers that be for coming together and hosting tournaments during the pandemic. He said, “It takes tremendous effort and credit goes to all of them. I am extremely happy to be competing after again 5 months. Sitting at home not knowing what the next steps were and how everything was going on was difficult. I am definitely happy to be back on the road.” During the lockdown he put up various posts on Instagram on hitting against the wall, so on his form, he adds, “When the lockdown started and we were all at home, I played a lot of points and trying create a match scenario with a couple of the kids back in the academy. This is of course his academy in Bangalore.

When I ask him what makes this partnership with Denis a special one, he reflects on his answer and says, “Right away from the first match, we enjoyed the camaraderie. While I bring in the special experience into the doubles format, he brings his extremely fast pace, massive power and flamboyance.” He credits these to having helped his game and since the combination worked, they started committing to a schedule and enjoying each other’s company. “I got to know him a lot better. He is a fantastic guy, and this has transformed into an honest friendship and as long as we enjoy playing together, that is what will give us success.

Bopanna at 2019 French Open

Val Febbo, an Australian journalist, pointed out on Twitter, that Bopanna played his first Futures event when the Canadian was only 7 months old! Staggering as these facts are, this duo almost 20 years apart have become a notable mainstay of the tour. We wonder what Bopanna thinks of Denis’ new single though!

These are truly unique times, but never has there been a better time to do something extraordinary. With qualifying matches underway from tomorrow, we wish the players all the best. Vive L’Inde!!

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