At 42 years young, the legendary Rohan Bopanna is happy to be back in Paris yet again. We meet at a typical French cafe in the afternoon to enjoy his favorite beverage, coffee, and some French bread.
In a free-flowing conversation, he shares his thoughts about a variety of things, including – his love for Paris, stellar 2022 season, helping other Indian doubles players, the progress of his academy, and much more.
RB: Vatsal, thanks a lot for having me here.
Q) Your thoughts on Paris and the Rolex Paris Masters
RB: Paris is one of my favorite cities in the world. I love the cafe and the coffee culture and a lot of other things.
In terms of tennis achievements, I have a lot of good memories. I won my only Grand Slam here in 2017. I’ve one the Paris-Bercy Masters twice, once in 2011 with Aisam (Qureshi) and in 2012 with Mahesh (Bhupathi). This year I made the semi-finals this year at Roland Garros.
I really enjoy the city. During Roland Garros, you get to stay in a different area and you get to explore the city so much. During the Masters, you stay in the Bercy village, which is very quaint and a completely different part of the city. It’s a beautiful city.
One other thing – our daughter was born on 18th May, which fell during the French Open this year. So that was another beautiful memory to celebrate her birthday here this year. Paris, in general, is a wonderful city.
Bhupathi and Bopanna with the 2012 Paris-Bercy Masters Trophy
Q) You’ve had a stellar 2022 season. Cracked the Top 20 for the first time since April 2018. What factors would you attribute the success to?
RB: The biggest factor has been my body is very healthy as compared to what it was in 2019. Currently, the cartilages on my knees are fully worn out. I have zero cartilages on my knee (laughs)! I had a lot of pain in 2018-19, despite trying a lot of things that doctors suggested. I kept pushing but nothing really improved
The rest happened during Covid. I had 4 full months off. At that time, I was talking to my cousin, who’s a Yoga teacher, in Bangalore. She suggested “Iyengar Yoga” to me. I found out about this place called “The Practice Room” in Ulsoor, Bangalore that specialises in Iyengar Yoga. But Mohan and Jaya, who run the studio, were extremely helpful when I spoke to them. I started doing 90-minute sessions with them. That started strengthening my glutes and quads, aligning my back. That really helped my game.
As they say, if your body is healthy, it really helps your game. I feel more calm mentally, and feel like I have more time on the court. I feel that has been the biggest change for me recently.
Q) You’ve shown great camaraderie with Matwe Middelkoop. One of the main reasons for you to not qualify for the ATP World Tour Finals is that you didn’t play the whole season together. Do you plan to start the 2023 season together?
RB: It does make a difference when you start the season with a partner. But Breaking News to you, Matwe (Middelkoop) and I won’t be playing 2023 together. In Vienna last week, he came up to me and said he wants to play with Robin Haase, his fellow Dutchman. Two days ago, I fixed up to play with Matthew Ebden from Australia. I will start 2023 with him.
Q) That’s surprising! Ebden had a great season, winning Wimbledon and being runners-up at Australian Open. Why would he want to switch?
RB: Because his partner Max Purcell wants to focus on singles. And Matt (Ebden) wanted someone who’s focusing on doubles. So we decided to play together.
Q) The Maharashtra Open is back to its opening slot in 2023. AITA is also organising a record number of tournaments in India in early 2023. Your thoughts on this?
RB: Vatsal, first of all, it’s always great playing in India. I’ve always enjoyed playing, whether it is Tour events or Davis Cup. Chennai Open had a lot of great memories. Now Pune, I’ve lived there for 5 years. So it’s great. I know it’s the last year Pune, as the contract was for 5 years. But I hope the event stays in India, if not Pune. Because we need tournaments like that to help Indian players.
On the other hand, it’s really amazing to see AITA organising tournaments where Indians are going to benefit, where you have lot more local players getting in and competing, which will help them gain ranking points. Be it Juniors or ATP or WTA or ITF Futures. That’s where the benefit happens. They move up and they can go for bigger events. It’s great to see AITA doing so much for Indian Tennis and it is really needed for Indian players.
Q) We’ve seen a recent splurge in Indian doubles players in the Top 150. We could potentially have 8-9 Grand Slam participants in doubles next year. How do you view this?
RB: I think it’s brilliant just to have competing at that level. In December, I am organising a doubles camp in Dubai for all these players. Thanks to Mr. Kishore Patil (CEO, KPIT) and Mr. Abhishek Tamhane from Pune, and I’ve got on-board to help them to help these players find physios and coaches to travel with them. The funds are sponsored by KPIT and physios and coaches have been travelling with these players for some time already.
We have 8-10 players and we will have a 2 week camp in Dubai. Jeff Coetzee is going to be the coach working with everybody. Mr. Balachandran (Balu Sir) is going to be there too. Gaurang Shukla and Manish Singh are going to be the physios. My coach Scott Davidoff will also be in Dubai. We have a good set of people to work with these guys. I believe a lot of these guys have done so much by themselves to get to where they are now. Now it is about giving them direction, and working together as a team. So we want to give them good guidance and make use of this opportunity.
Q) Speaking of Dubai and December, you’re going to be playing in the World Tennis League. Is this camp after the league?
RB: It starts one week before the league starts. The second week are looking to do a lot of practice matches. The guys can also come and watch the League matches where a lot of the top guys will be playing. I am really happy to be part of the World Tennis League too.
Q) Any particular comments on Team #YukiSaki? They have set the Challenger Tour on fire
RB: As individuals, both of them are fantastic tennis players. Every time you have a team from your own country doing well together, it’s so nice to see. They have the tools to crack the Top 50 easily. If they have the right guidance and pick the right tournaments, they have enormous potential. It already shows in the way they have performed in the Challengers.
To put it into some perspective, myself and Aisam (Qureshi) made our breakthrough in 2009 by winning a lot of ATP Challenger events, won titles and made finals. We made QF at Wimbledon, finals at US Open. So Challengers are definitely a stepping stone. You understand the level.
Now they need to work together as a team. Sometimes when I watch their matches, I feel there are certain doubles plays they can incorporate that will help them at a higher level. But really, a lot of credit to both of them for how well they have been doing. The biggest thing is consistency, and that is what sets them apart.
Q) 15 year old Rethin Pranav Senthil Kumar, a trainee at your academy (RBTA), has been doing really well on the ITF Juniors Tour. Have you been able to watch him practice or keep a tab on his performance?
RB: I am really happy with his progress. I see him every time I visit the academy. I have hit with him many, many times. The biggest positive is that he is getting taller and stronger, which is helping his game. He is a very smart player, and understands the game really well. We are working on strengthening his legs, because as he starts moving better, he will have a lot better results.
The good part is he is someone who is willing to learn and is hungry to achieve more constantly, which is really important for a tennis player. He also made the finals at an ITF in Thailand recently. So a lot of other kids can benefit by having him around at the academy as well.
Q) RBTA has been in place for 7 years now. How do you review the progress?
RB: The biggest objective is ours to guide the players of how to progress in their journey. A lot of the parents come in for one or two months and expect quick results. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen anywhere in the world. It takes time.
Balu Sir and myself want to give the guidance to not just the players, but also to the coaches. We constantly get coaches from outside the country to come to the academy and help us with our program. We are also trying to make tie-ups with academies in Europe and the US so that our kids can have a base there when they go there for tournaments. Playing for 20 years on the circuit, I know pretty much every coach. So that really helps.
I feel when a kid is stagnant, you need to send him to a better place. The most important thing is ensure that the kid is learning. Our number one goal is to make sure that their fitness is taken care of. We have 3 full-time strength and conditioning trainers. I really feel that is the most important part. A lot of the parents keep telling me that they do more fitness than tennis. But if you want to compete with the Europeans, etc, you have to be supremely fit.
I have played a lot of doubles with (Denis) Shapovalov, and the way he moves on the court is EXCEPTIONAL. The explosiveness he brings in is just amazing. And that comes from a young age. It’s not like he developed it in the last 2 years. Even Felix Auger Aliassime. It comes from a young age.
Having Balu Sir is really important as he is really helping the coaches learn. Results will come and go. That’s part of the sport. But we are trying to build the right structures.
Q) Europe is the epicentre of Tennis. How are you planning to provide that exposure for RBTA players?
We are trying to raise funds to help the kids and the coaches to travel. Because I want the coaches to understand the structure globally. I am trying to reach out wherever I can. I have always started a foundation, and I have been helping numerous kids with their tennis and education for over 3 years now. This is the next step for RBTA.