Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Before leaving for the Asian Games, I had manifested the gold medal: Rohan Bopanna

The tennis ace on his recent wins, secret of his longevity, friendship with 'legend' Sania Mirza, how the sport can be popularised in India, and mentoring youngsters

Published: Oct 5, 2023 01:26:01 PM IST
Updated: Oct 5, 2023 01:34:39 PM IST

Before leaving for the Asian Games, I had manifested the gold medal: Rohan BopannaRohan Bopanna after playing his last Davis Cup match for India on 17th September, 2023 in Lucknow, India. Image: Deepak Gupta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Grand Slam champion and 24-time winner on the ATP Tour, tennis star Rohan Bopanna has proved that age is just a number. The 43-year-old won a gold medal in mixed doubles at the Asian Games with partner Rutuja Bhosale. He also became the oldest runner-up in a Grand Slam recently. And he has no plans to stop. “I will continue to play and try to push myself as much as I can,” he says. Edited excerpts from an interview.  

Q. What was the feeling of playing your last Davis Cup… closing it with a victory and winning a gold at the Asian Games?
It’s a proud feeling to have represented India for such a long time—from 2002 to 2023. Serving India has been really special and overwhelming. Before leaving for the Asian Games, I had visualised and manifested it [the medal]… and it resulted in Rutuja and me winning the gold. I am extremely happy.  

Q. What is the secret of your longevity?
I think it’s the journey again—being able to sustain [myself] on the ATP circuit and making my first Grand Slam final in 2010. And now again, in 2023, 13 years later. I think my mental strength has been a huge strength… and constantly finding ways to improve myself and play at the highest level. For the last few years, I've been focusing on how I recover, and changed my workout routine as well. I invested a lot in myself and in making sure that I have the physio more than the coach most of the weeks, because I felt the recovery was a key part of doing well on the circuit and reaching another Grand Slam final. It was amazing this year, playing with a specific doubles partner like Matthew [Ebden].  

We've enjoyed playing together… this year has been great, especially starting off winning in Doha and Indian Wells, and making the semis in Wimbledon and the finals at the US Open. We’ve still got five tournaments left this season and we are looking forward to finishing in maybe Turin [Italy].
 
Q. Which of your victories have been special to you?
There have been a few special Grand Slam victories. In 2010, playing against Brazil, especially because I was love-two and came back to win 3-2… playing the singles match there, the last dead rubber match, live rubber match. And then taking India to the world group playoff. It was extremely memorable.  

Winning my mixed doubles title in 2017 with Gabriela Dabrowski was also special. And, of course, being on the circuit for such a long time, winning ATP titles… all these are fabulous memories. We notched a win at the Davis Cup against Morocco recently. I will continue to play on the ATP circuit and try to push [myself] as much as I can.

Q. What’s the experience of playing with someone like Sania Mirza?
She's truly a legend. She has inspired so many people across the world, not only women, but a lot of the players and everyone… our friendship started a long time ago. I think she was 14 when I first met her, and we played a mixed doubles match in Delhi… we ended up winning that title and being friends for long really made a difference. The camaraderie off court helped us play better on court, and I'm truly proud to have a close friend like Sania. I’ve learnt so much from her.

Also read: A champion mindset can be developed over time: Rohan Bopanna

Q. What do you tell youngsters?
The one thing—and I told them that recently during the Davis Cup and Asian Games—is how to conduct themselves and understand the situation. In the Davis Cup and Asian Games, they are not playing for themselves… they're playing for the country, they represent India, it is much bigger than what they do on the ATP circuit. And that is important, so just accept and calm your nerves… even today, when I start the first game, there are always some nerves, but that's where a good team atmosphere helps—everyone supporting each other, pushing each other. So, in the Davis Cup, the rankings go out of the window, those don’t matter. I communicate with them a lot. And that has been beautiful.

Before leaving for the Asian Games, I had manifested the gold medal: Rohan BopannaGold medallists India's Rutuja Bhosale and Rohan Bopanna pose during the medal ceremony following the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games mixed doubles final tennis match in Hangzhou, in China's eastern Zhejiang province in September 30, 2023. Image: Philip Fong / AFP

Q. How can tennis be popularised in India?
The key for Indian tennis to grow is to have tournaments in the country. Right now, we don't have any tournaments for players to compete in. And the biggest thing we need right now is to create opportunities for these players. The minute we start creating those opportunities, tennis will improve, and become a huge sport. And I hope that it will change. When that changes, it'll make a big, big difference.

Q. Tennis is an expensive sport. Is there enough corporate support?
It goes hand-in-hand—a combination of the Federation, the government and players coming together. One of the reasons I'm saying we need to bring tennis tournaments to India is that they will help cut down expenses and when that happens, and changes, we'll see a lot more players’ rankings improve, and they’ll then get to the international stage.  

Q. What are your future plans?
We have won the gold at the Asian Games and now I have the Shanghai Masters and tournaments in Tokyo, Vienna and Paris, and the Masters in Turin, so it's extremely busy… and I am looking forward to it.