Rohan Bopanna: Another Davis Cup titan retires on a high

Rohan Bopanna has had a stellar Davis Cup career, spanning an astonishing 21 years. During that long and distinguished career, he compiled a 12-10 career record in doubles, mainly in World Group matches (or playoffs to retain/re-enter the highest tier of Davis Cup). And he also won 10 singles rubbers, losing 17, the latter mainly in the years after he had become a doubles specialist but continued doughtily playing singles for his country.

Among the wins was one over Ricardo Mello in the deciding fifth rubber to ensure a spectacular 3-2 win for India over Brazil in the 2010 World Group play-off. Rohan had also taken the Brazil #1 Thomas Bellucci to five sets in the first rubber, only losing the final set 8-10 but sending a clear signal of the challenge India was set to present to the higher-ranked Brazilian team. In another home Davis Cup encounter on grass, Bopanna notched up a memorable victory in 2008 over Kei Nishikori, perhaps the greatest Asian tennis player in history (and future US Open finalist).

For someone considered a grass specialist (especially in singles), one of the most memorable Davis Cup matches of the 21st century was Rohan’s match on clay in the Netherlands against Martin Verkerk in 2003. Verkerk was that year’s French Open finalist, and was ranked 14 in the world, but Bopanna took him to five sets, and would have won had it not been for a number of questionable line calls in the final set, which Verkerk eventually took 10-8.

Ironically, even after Rohan had become a doubles specialist (and was ranked among the world’s top-25 doubles players), he rarely got an opportunity to play Davis Cup doubles, because Leander/Mahesh were still a formidable pairing. Once Mahesh retired, Rohan/Leander had some famous Davis Cup victories, including beating Zimonjic/Bozoljac of Serbia in 2014, Pavic/Skugor of Croatia in 2020 and Nielsen/Torpegaard of Denmark in 2021. Zimonjic was a former world #1 in doubles and that year’s Wimbledon Mixed Doubles champion, Pavic too was world #1 and 3 times Slam champion (including the 2020 US Open) and Skugor was in the top-20, while Nielsen was a former Wimbledon doubles champion and hence dangerous on the grass (the surface for the 2021 tie at the Delhi Gymkhana Club).

Fittingly, in his final Davis Cup match, Rohan paired up with Yuki Bhambri to secure a 6-2, 6-1 victory against Morocco and restore the momentum lost after the first day had ended a disappointing 1-1. It was Rohan Bopanna’s final Davis Cup rubber, and he went out on a personal high. Sadly, it was also the very first time India had been relegated to World Group II. While the team (led by one of the least able former players ever to sit on the Davis Cup captain’s chair) was at a new nadir, Bopanna himself had retired at the very top of his game, having just established a record earlier this month for becoming the oldest man (at 43) to make a Slam final. Fittingly he sat on the captain’s chair in the final rubber to shepherd Digvijay Pratap Singh to a debut victory in the Davis Cup, and effectively pass the torch to a new generation. He’s hung up his Davis Cup shoes and racquet, but has left the door ajar for another crack at an Olympic medal at Paris next year (to atone for the narrowest of losses in the MxD bronze medal match in Rio 2016). Thank you for the indelible Davis Cup memories, Rohan!

Bopanna celebrating with teammates after the historic comeback win over Brazil in Chennai, 2010

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