Rohan Bopanna‘s doubles prowess is well decorated with one mixed doubles Major, five Masters, and 19 other tour-level titles. A former Top 3 player, Bopanna still finds himself in the Top 10 rankings (live rankings as of the week of August 13, 2023) at the age of 43.
As a quadragenarian, Bopanna has achieved the remarkable feat of winning a Master’s title (Indian Wells), finishing as a runner-up in mixed doubles at the Australian Open and at Madrid in men’s doubles, and reaching the final four at Wimbledon men’s doubles for the third time in his career; all in 2023.
Before Bopanna established himself as one of India’s finest exponents of doubles, the groundwork was laid way back in the 1960s. Since the Second World War, India has produced four generations of tennis players – the Krishnan-Lall-Mukerjea era, the Amritraj brothers era, and the Paes-Bhupathi-Bopanna era. Each passing generation saw a gradual decline in the singles results, whereas the stronghold on doubles exponentially rose.
Despite Bopanna’s heroics, India’s fourth generation of players has failed to make a mark on the circuit at the tour level. The alarming lack of consistent results compels an Indian tennis fan to ponder, “What after Bopanna?”
The question is further amplified as the discipline of doubles has helped India stay noticeable in the eyes of global tennis. While the nation has dishearteningly lost its command in singles, the non-Bopanna results on the doubles tour have been consistently inconsistent.
As far as efforts to level up our game are concerned, no one has answered the “What after Bopanna?” question better than Bopanna himself. In the first week of April 2022, he was ranked marginally outside the Top 30 in the doubles rankings. The next best player was ranked No.87. Back then, a total of seven Indians found themselves ranked within the Top 200 of the doubles rankings.
During the same month, the Pune Metropolitan District Tennis Association (PMDTA) and KPIT Technologies kickstarted the “Doubles Dream of India” project. Bopanna was roped in as the spearhead mentor. Aimed at providing financial and athletic support to the players ranked within the Top 200, the project’s objectives were to make Indian players secure Majors and Olympic medals in doubles. A key highlight of this program sees the players get maximum benefit when they transition from the Challenger circuit to the Tour-level events as their ranking improves.
The Doubles Dream has shown positive signs so far. The week of 13th August 2023 sees 12 players within the Top 200, with Niki Kaliyanda Poonacha knocking on the door at No.207.
India won its first-ever Major when Mahesh Bhupathi and Rika Hirski lifted the mixed doubles crown at the 1997 French Open. Since then, across all disciplines of doubles (men’s, women’s, and mixed), India has won 30 Majors. The latest win was recorded six years ago when Bopanna won the 2017 French Open partnering Gabriela Dabrowski.
Bopanna continues to make history while ensuring his legacy lives on with the doubles dream. However, the bigger question is, how soon and how effectively can the fourth generation deliver?