“We’ve found our strengths and where we can complement each other”- says Rohan Bopanna on his partnership with Matthew Ebden

Rohan Bopanna and Matthew Ebden marched into the R16 of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, California with a close 7-5 3-6 10-6 victory over Rafa Martos (BRA) and David Vega Hernandez (ESP). We sat down with Rohan to talk about the match, his partnership with Matthew Ebden and the state of Indian tennis.

Watch the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PXzjGpfI9Q

Q) Congratulations on winning today’s match. What are your thoughts about the match? Especially,  what was going on in your head at 5 all in the match tiebreak. What was going through your head ?

RB: Thank you so much. I think today’s match  was not easy to play because the conditions were very difficult. The ball was not really traveling through the air so much, it was holding up. Also playing under the lights after a while.Plus, we were playing a righty lefty combination. So we tried to get used to that as well. There were so many back and forth exchanges. Lots of ups and downs, many momentum shifts throughout the match. Having said that, I think we stayed strong there. In the tie breaks, we knew it’s going to be, one point here or there. We’ve won a few of them like that and also lost a few. So we had to stay positive, no matter what. Even though we got to 2-0,  we were down again, mini break. Even the tie break was similar to the sets, but I think in the end we just played some good aggressive smart points and closed it out. Those guys are an extremely tough team. They did really well last year. So tricky start but glad to be still alive. 

Q) You also played Rafa Martos at the Australian Open in the Mixed Doubles final. Did you pick up some cues from that match ?

RB: I think it’s very different with mixed and men’s doubles. You know a little bit of their strengths. Since we all play week in and week out we know a lot of them. In the mixed doubles, I was playing on the ad side, today I was playing on the deuce side. That made it a little bit different. It’s nice to have played him recently, the memory is a little fresh in terms of playing against him. I’m trying to get the result’s memory away (with laughs). At the end of the day we’re just happy to be in the second round.

Q) In the next round you play  Grigor Dimitrov and Hubert Hurcakz. They beat Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury yesterday. What are your thoughts about that match? 

RB: They’re extremely good tennis players. They play a lot of doubles. May not be together as a team but also separately. Hurcakz  plays a lot of doubles, especially for the past three or four years. He’s been playing a lot. They both know really well how to play this game and they’re going to be  a tough team. Beating Rajeev and Joe, it’s never easy to beat those guys. They came through that good match. Both serve and return really well. So we’re up against a tough team and luckily we have a day off tomorrow. We can come in and practice a bit. It’s nice to get a lot of support here and there’s always a lot of Indians who come out and support. I mean, even though today with all the rain  there were so many of them there which was nice, it always is . I know on the weekend as well. I have a lot of my friends and a lot Indians from the Bay Area come along to watch. The event itself  brings in such a warm culture from various parts of the world. People  come and enjoy tennis and I think that’s nice. In a way I get to see my friends. Its like that once a year  family bonding time is what I call it!

Q) Talking about practices, after the practice yesterday, we saw Denis Shapovalov and Felix coming in and you shared a light moment with Denis. Are you guys still in touch with each other regularly ? How’s that going ?

RB: I definitely share a very, very close friendship with him. He’s  such a wonderful guy as he came on the court, the first thing we were talking about was that, luckily we don’t play each other in the first round because the last few times when we didn’t play doubles together : it happened in Washington, Canada and Cincinnati. So three weeks in a row we ended up playing against each other. So that was the light moment. I think both Denis and Felix are great guys  fantastic tennis players, it’s fun. I’ve known the majority of the guys you know, on the tour. So you know, it’s  nice to share some good light moments with them.

Q) You’ve been playing with Matthew Ebden since the start of the season. You reached  the finals of Rotterdam, you won the Qatar Open. How’s your assessment of the partnership so far?

RB: I think we’re still finding the right rhythm. Having said that, we’ve found  what our strengths are and where we can complement each other. Every match is so different, the conditions are different, we can’t really control those things. At least what we can do is really bring in what strengths we as a team can really bring out there and then if you have to adapt during the matches, we go through that. We sit and chat and that  has really  helped. It helps my free style  game especially when Matt is such a solid player. He returns well, he’s extremely consistent so, I can take a lot of chances and that’s the way I have always done well with partners. I think that is what is really working for us.

Q) You’ve been playing really well. Unfortunately, Indian tennis is seeing a little bit of a vacuum right now. Especially with singles, our highest rank player : Sumit Nagal is #379. We don’t have anyone playing in the grand slam qualifiers. At Indian Wells, you’re the only Indian representative. In  doubles, we do have Yuki, Saketh, Bala, Jeevan in the top 100. How do you see the future of Indian Tennis ? In the short term and in the long term ?

RB: The biggest thing I’ve been saying for many years is that you have to invest in yourself. Invest in yourself in the sense that you need to have a coach or a physio traveling with you full time. Yes, it is expensive. We’ve all been through that journey. Tennis is like starting your own company, you put in capital, you don’t know where it’s going to head, but that is what it takes. I’ve been with a full-time coach full-time physio for the past twelve to fifteen years and that is what makes a difference. You need to have somebody there. How much ever you may be  knowing the sport, you need an outside perspective. You can’t just have someone for 2 weeks not have somebody for the other 3 weeks. I don’t see this happening, I don’t see the guys really investing in themselves. Whether it’s men’s tennis or women’s tennis,  playing in India, they have coaches, their physios. However, when they’re traveling outside they all say it’s expensive but it was the same similar scenario when we did it. We still did the same thing. I mean that’s exactly what it takes. You need to do that to understand where your game is,  where it is heading.  I think that will make the change for  Indian tennis. 

Q) We’ve talked about the current crop of players. What do you think about the juniors? Do you have anyone that you have specifically in mind who you think is going to do really well ?

RB: I don’t have anyone in particular. However, they need to understand that they need to get out of their comfort zone and that’s when tennis is a challenge to focus on. Being in your comfort zone will not make you grow as a player. There are a few juniors who played at the Australian Open this year. There’s a Junior event here starting on Monday. Ayush Bhatt, a junior sent me a message asking if I was free to hit with him. I hit with him in Australia. Its really nice that I get to see them as well. At the end of their day, they need to speak with guys who’ve been through this journey. It’s what’s going to help them grow. It’s definitely possible, it needs a lot of discipline and commitment. Players, parents, coaches, everyone needs to be really focussed.

Q) My next question is about Sani Mirza. You’ve known her for very long, you’ve been good friends on and off the court, she’s been one of India’s brightest ever tennis stars. She just retired, could you talk about that ? How’s your journey been playing with and see her go through her career ? 

RB: Its been really amazing that I’ve shared so many  years on the tour with her. I’ve played a bunch of times with her. I definitely miss her on the tour . For example, you mentioned, I’m the only Indian here. I know if Sania was still playing, she would have been here. It’s nice to have that company. She’s inspired so many wonderful people. Not only in India, but throughout the world. So many athletes have picked up the sport because of her. Its truly amazing what she’s done, the sacrifices that she’s made. Not only her, her mom, her dad and her sister. I know that she’s still going to be involved with the sport in a big way. The good thing is any time I need some help, or I need to figure out how I can help women’s tennis, or any other part of tennis,  I can just reach out to her, she’ll give me her feedback, her advice. It’s always nice when you have that good a friendship.

Q) You’re still going extremely strong, what are your goals for the rest of the season ? Is playing Paris 2024 one of the plans ? 

RB: Those things are such a long away off, I’m still enjoying competing on the tour, playing these bug events. At the end of the day, you are here talking to me, because there’s an Indian tennis player. This is what we need. We need Indians to play at the biggest stage, inspire the next generation. I feel chatting with you, who knows someone may listen to us, read this, this is what we really need. We have a great tennis culture. We need to constantly give back to the sport. I’m really happy representing the country. I’m happy to still be flying the Indian flag at this tournament. That’s the true feeling that I have. It’s a proud moment for me to be playing this tournament.

Full replay of this match is available on Tennis TV – https://www.tennistv.com/videos/3102993/indian-wells-2023-r1-matos-vega-hernandez-bopanna-ebden

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