“I was not ready to settle for another quarter-final” – Age-defying Bopanna after making his first ever Roland Garros semis

Rohan Bopanna and Dutch partner Matwe Middelkoop scripted a miraculous comeback to beat the red hot pair of Lloyd Glasspool and Harri Heliovaara. Our pair was 5-3 down in the 3rd set, and then down 3-0 in the super tiebreak, before winning 10 straight points to seal victory. The final scoreline read 4-6 6-4 7-6(10-3).

This is Bopanna’s first Grand Slam Men’s Doubles SF in 7 years, and his first one ever at Roland Garros. On the other hand, it’s his partner Middelkoop’s first Grand Slam semi-final ever.

Speaking after the match, Bopanna shared his thoughts on this big run, his journey so far, the match next up, etc. Excerpts below:

Q) How would you describe this run? It’s come at 42. It’s come after a long time.

Clay in the past few years has definitely been one of my favorite surfaces to play on. The reason is I feel I get a lot more time in my game and my serve is a big advantage on this surface.

Q) How is the serve a big advantage? Because everyone says that the clay takes the serve out of the game a little bit

So the biggest advantage there, for me, is my kick serve. It really, really helps. And I have over the years really worked on that and I have a really strong second service.

It gets me in good positions, sets up my forehand on the second shot. Because it’s not easy to attack that serve, especially when I’m mixing it a lot on my serve. And I think that gives me time as it’s a slower court. I think I I think that is when I play my best. I can do a lot more with my forehand or backhand. Even when the opponent’s serving, I can see when the guys are moving at the net and that gives me a big advantage on this surface. And I think that, of course, with experience playing overall, and understanding this surface, not rushing, at points, that is what has changed.

And that is what I think has really grown in my myself. I got better last year, I have been really competing, which is more important than practicing. Enjoying myself, focusing on much myself completely and not really worrying about the outcome – these are the things that have made the difference.

Q) You’ve been number 3 in the world. Made a Grand Slam final very early in your career. But for a player of your calibre, you have made just 5 Grand Slam semi-finals. You were probably expected to do more. How would you describe that?

So the expectations are not for me to fulfil first and foremost. Whether to make semis today or to make a final back in 2010, I think when you come from a country where somebody has already achieved that, I think that’s the expectations automatically from the next player, no?

So that you can’t compare. I mean, at the end of the journey, for the resources I had when I started my tennis, I’m happy to be here. I started only at the age of 10 with no fitness trainer to tell me what kind of tennis specific training is to be done. No tennis coach as such in order to tell me what kind of drills to do, or what to do. None of the academies I went to took me as a junior prospect. So there are so many things to look at. I smile when I think back on the journey I have come through to reach where I am.

And I think that is why I’m here today. I’m enjoying even till today and am doing what I am doing because I feel you can’t change what I had. I mean, whether there was a good fitness centre, whether I could have maybe been training in Europe or, so something else.

At that point of time, based on the resources my parents had, tennis was not affordable. As much as they could have their passion for it, whatever they could they pushed me, they put me in the right place and the only thing I did was religiously doing it day in and day out.

When I was in Pune, I was riding a bicycle 15 kilometers a day, going to practice, fitness, tennis, whatever it may be – everything was every single day, not looking at what the outcome was. I was losing first round in juniors constantly. So a lot of parents could have said – “You know what? Okay. This is not working for you. Let’s stop it.” But that is the biggest support I had from my parents that made a difference. Not only my parents, the rest of the family understood too. Even if they disagreed, they may be disagreed within themselves but not in front of me. They stuck together.

Today, every parent I speak to wants results fast. Everything has to happen fast, and every Indian parent, no matter which part of the world they are based in, their first priority is education. And if that is your priority, then your plan A of making your kid a sportsperson is already gone away.

My parents’ initial goal was for them to see me play for India is Davis Cup. That happened in 2002 itself. It was incredibly hard coming from Coorg, not knowing anything at that point of time. Nobody had internet or Google to check what is somebody else doing. We just trusted whoever was teaching us on opposite of the net.

We did whatever was told to us. When I was in Pune, somebody said warm up run four rounds of the ground, do five thousand skipping. It was not any specific training, but at that point of time, that trainer was an expert in whatever little bit he knew or whatever the coaches knew at that juncture.

So looking at all that, it is just beautiful to be here. Beautiful to be here, play here. There are two Indians playing out of a billion people here. If today that doesn’t encourage somebody to be here, what will?

I mean two of a billion people you know, Sania and me. 10 years ago, a lot more people were covering players from India. We need it to be covered. It needs to be shown. We need the younger generation to get some inspiration, no matter what it is. That is what we need to change.

Everybody keeps saying it’s hard, it’s hard. Every thing is hard in life. But you come together, you support it. It will make a difference. It’s a long process and parents, federation everybody have to come together. I’ve been seeing this for years.

Q) You were 3-5 down in the match. Then 3-0 down in the super tiebreak. How would you describe it?

I think, to be honest, today from right from the beginning, I think Middelkoop and Glasspool felt a little more pressure of a quarter, as they were probably gunning for their first semis, compared to Heliovaara and myself. Glasspool and Middelkoop kept playing on and off in patches.

I was really in the moment feeling every return. I kind of read the play pretty well on where they were going to serve. Playing a lot of quarter-finals here before really prepared me. I was not ready to settle for another quarter-final. So that kept me going.

Q) Any thoughts about the semi-finals on Wednesday? You play the 12th seeds Rojer and Arevalo.

It’s on Thursday actually. We have two days off. They are experienced players. Jean-Julien Rojer has been on tour for numerous years and I’ve played against him on multiple occasions. Myself and Shapovalov played against this pair in Miami this year and we beat them. Middelkoop has been in the same Davis Cup team as Rojer as they both come from The Netherlands. So you don’t know.

They have played with each other last year so they know each other’s games really well. They’re another strong team. But you have to expect every match to be tough at this level. It is going to be a fantastic match. We are going to go out there and play hard, and the goal will be to make another final.

Q) Do you intend to continue with Middelkoop for the rest of the season?

I don’t know yet. Depends on how we end up doing. I am fixed with (Denis) Shapovalov for Stuttgart and Queen’s. The cuts are closed and that cannot be changed. There are a lot of tournaments after that. We’ll have to see about the US Open. I’m taking time off for Queen’s. I am planning to play Bstaad, Hamburg, Umag, etc after the grass season. I am glad my family is with me, as it’s been a long journey from Monte Carlo to Queen’s, after which I will take a break.

My daughter asked me today “Do you have two matches today?”, which is amazing, because I had two matches yesterday. She doesn’t know about the concept or win or loss or knockout in Tennis.

Q) How does having your family around help with recovery?

It takes your mind off from everything, especially when you having a three year old kid, there is so much going on. It also relaxes you in a big way. It’s nice to spend some time with family, have a good meal with them somewhere, walk around. And the weather in Paris has been amazing.

It’s a sacrifice my wife makes so that we can spend this time, as unfortunately, her work, being a psychologist, gets affected. I unfortunately can’t work from home (laughs). So thanks to her, I get to spend time with our daughter and share all these great moments because I think once she starts school then it’s going to be tough.

But I think travel is a great education. She can always start at school. To be honest, she’s already learning so much on the road. She knows when you travel you need to have a passport, a visa and then only you can go to the airport. So it’s nice to see all of that.

Q) What was the rationale behind Middelkoop serving first in the sets before the 3rd set, where you served first. And what caused the shift?

We decided to change that because Middelkoop was struggling with his serve today. So I said, okay let me start. Being the experienced one out there, I said keeping a lead in the 3rd set would surely make a difference. And I think that was a right play to do. It just purely depends on the situation in that match and we might start the next match with Middelkoop serving first you know, or it could be me.

Q) You’ve hardly faced break points in this tournament….

I don’t really look at that to be honest. Every time I’m serving I just focus on finding a way to win the game. I don’t care if I face a break point or not. The idea is to just focus on a service game win.

Photos from the match:

Indian based in the Alps region. Works for an IT firm during the weekdays und auch lernt Deutsch. On the weekends, he can be traced somewhere in the Mountains or on backpacker trips. Is a Social Worker / Activist with a deeper interest for Indian / Swiss tennis from the past year.

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