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Friday, Nov 22, 2019

Rohan Bopanna: 7-year itch & freedom - expect more Slams from French Open champ

Rohan Bopanna, at 37, became the fourth Indian to win a Grand Slam, capturing the French Open 2017 mixed doubles crown with partner Gabriela Dabrowski at Roland Garros.

tennis Updated: Jun 11, 2017 20:34 IST
Leslie Xavier
Leslie Xavier
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Rohan Bopanna and Gabriela Dabrowski  of Canada won the French Open 2017 mixed doubles title, defeating Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Robert Farah.
Rohan Bopanna and Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada won the French Open 2017 mixed doubles title, defeating Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Robert Farah.(AP)

Tennis is perhaps one of the few sports where an athlete’s peak can be quantified without a debate. A Grand Slam title is a good indicator that he has finally found the Holy Grail and Rohan Bopanna got his at Roland Garros on Thursday, after a “long, testing”, seven-year itch.

The 37-year-old, who won his maiden Grand Slam title -- the French Open 2017 mixed doubles crown with Canadian partner Gabriela Dabrowski -- is back in India to celebrate the moment before flying off to the UK for the grass-court season. The nine-hour flight from Paris to Bengaluru was a meditative space for Bopanna, where, the euphoria from his triumph on the Parisian clay settled in and he managed to fathom the meaning of his win, and gather his bearings.

Yes, getting one’s focus back is more difficult after a big triumph, especially when it involves reaching a goal one has been cherishing since childhood. Bopanna is focused now and wants to enjoy the new-found freedom.

Read | Rohan Bopanna revels in French Open success, says he is playing his best tennis

“Well, the enormity of the victory has sunk in and I just want to say that all that hard work through the years has finally paid off,” Bopanna tells HT. “On a personal front, playing at the highest level, working hard to improve one’s game to be competitive at the top, I have been maturing as a player and in Paris, I hit peak. But Gabriela also deserves credit for the victory. She was amazing right through the two weeks and showed her class in the final as well.”

Growing as a player

Bopanna was in a reflective mood, and understandably so.

He has endured many near misses through the years, including the 2010 US Open men’s doubles final where he fell short, alongside partner Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi from Pakistan. It took seven long years for Bopanna to reach another Grand Slam final, and this time he made it count. Rather, this time he was “physically and mentally ready” to make it count.

“The journey has been long and testing. Right through my career, my focus was always to improve,” elaborates Bopanna. “Grass was my favourite surface, clay was perhaps the least favourite. Playing with various partners, working through the seasons, I learnt quite a lot over the years and improved considerably. Last two years, I have improved on clay and that showed at Monte Carlo and at Roland Garros.”

Road to London

At the Monte Carlo Masters this year, Bopanna, with partner Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay, won the men’s doubles title -- their maiden triumph. Bopanna and Cuevas seems to be complementing each other’s game and the Indian believes he has found a long-term partner in the Uruguayan. Cuevas, a clay court specialist, had, in fact, helped refine Bopanna further on the surface.

Read more | Rafael Nadal sights 10th French Open title in Stan Wawrinka duel

The pair is now aiming to finish the year by qualifying for the ATP Tour Finals in London, which means finishing as one of the top eight doubles pairs in the world. They are currently ranked 10th in ‘Road to London’ and with two titles and a Grand Slam under his belt, Bopanna has every right to dream.

To make things better, his mixed doubles pairing with Dabrowski looked and played like Grand Slam winners right through French Open.

“We just won a Grand Slam and Gabriela is a great player,” says Bopanna. “We are planning to win a few more titles together with the next stop being Wimbledon, which happens to be on my favourite surface.”

IRohan Bopanna (L) is India’s fourth-ever Grand Slam winner.
IRohan Bopanna (L) is India’s fourth-ever Grand Slam winner. ( AFP )

The surface dynamics apart, what will work for Bopanna is the new-found freedom, which he feels would reflect in his game. Underachievement can be a huge demon and Bopanna has slayed it with the victory at French Open.

Though he is not willing to make promises about the Olympics in 2020, which is “a long way off”, he is raring to give his best this season and beyond on the ATP tour as well as for the Indian Davis Cup team. For India, he would be expected to spearhead the doubles challenge, which has always been the team’s game-changer in crucial ties.

He is up for it and more. “I would also like to mentor the upcoming players as well,” says Bopanna. “That’s one reason I have started my academy in Bengaluru. With the Indian team, whenever I am called in to play, I would give my best and also help out the younsters in the squad.”

There will, however, be a slight difference in his approach in the future, a lightness of being to start with. Perhaps, a little swag as well. He is, after all, India’s latest Grand Slam champion!