Rohan Bopanna, living in bubbles, chasing slam glory
For the Indian tennis ace, the biggest distinction between the bubbles was the level of difficulty at the first step—nasal swab for the coronavirus test.Updated: Sep 27, 2020, 09:10 IST
Rohan Bopanna has been in three bio-bubbles in around a month—in New York for the Western & Southern Open and US Open, in Rome as the only Indian in the Italian Open and now at the French Open starting on Sunday.
For the Indian tennis ace, the biggest distinction between the bubbles was the level of difficulty at the first step—nasal swab for the coronavirus test.
“Some nose swabs are tolerable, some are extremely difficult. That is the biggest challenge and difference in the three bubbles,” Bopanna said, laughing.
Professional tennis players live out of a suitcase around the year, but checking in and out of different bubbles within weeks has been a unique experience for the 40-year-old Bopanna. India’s highest-ranked doubles player at world No.37 entered the Paris bubble on Thursday after an extended stay in Rome and has bad to isolate for 24 hours before heading to the Roland Garros for a hit with partner Denis Shapovalov.
The protocols in the bubbles are largely standard—testing at regular intervals and players allowed out of the hotel only to hit the courts. The difference has been in the hotels and the way players have been demarcated. French Open is doing it on the basis of player ranking.
“In the US, all players were in one hotel. In Rome, the ATP and WTA players were in different hotels. Here in Paris, they have the top 60 singles players in one hotel and the guys below 60 in another,” Bopanna said.
“The hotel in Rome was by far the best. We had a great view of the city and beautiful pools but we couldn’t use them or go to the city. There were designated areas for players. Different kind of bubbles but at the end of the day, each had pretty similar rules.”
The bubble in New York had plenty of recreational activities for players, in the hotel and in the stadium. Bopanna tried his hand at mini golf, among other things, in his three-week stay there. He is waiting to see what Roland Garros offers.
“The US Open did a fantastic job. The fan zone was made a fully recreational area for players. They set up different areas for food, where you could just scan and order food and they would bring it to you,” he said.
The French Open bubble has a similar arrangement. “We’re isolated from the rest of the guests in the hotel,” Prajnesh Gunneswaran, who lost in the second round of qualifiers, said a few days ago. “You can order food in the room. They also have an entire (different) floor only in which we can have food. That’s pretty good.”
Bopanna flew out of India on August 15, so it will be two months, three bubbles and a largely isolated life by the time French Open ends. Bopanna said he would’ve ideally liked to come home for a few days in between the tournaments, but has got used to the mental challenges being in the bubble pose.
“I was doing a few online courses, watching movies on Netflix, doing video calls with my daughter. And when you’re playing, it’s easy. You already have a routine so the day goes much faster. When you lose early and are just waiting around, there’s a lot more time to kill,” he said.
The Bopanna-Shapovalov pair has been winning quite a bit. After a first-round exit at the Western & Southern Open, the Indo-Canadian combination reached the quarter-finals of the US Open and Italian Open. They upset French Open champions Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies in New York and top seeds Robert Farah and Juan Sebastian Cabal in Rome.
Their good run is primarily down to a fitter and mentally fresher Bopanna hitting his strides quickly after the long break, 21-year-old Shapovalov’s resurgence in singles (he climbed into the top 10 last week) and their growing friendship while in the bubble.
“We got to spend a lot more time together thanks to the bubble. You’re in the same hotel, pretty much hanging out together always, whether it is at breakfast or dinner. It was also easy to go and watch his (singles) matches—I didn’t have to ask the tournament or the player, ‘Hey, do you have any extra ticket left for me?’ I could go whenever I wanted!” Bopanna said.
Bopanna is optimistic about their chances at the year’s final Grand Slam, unusually on clay this time. Both Bopanna and Shapovalov are confident having adjusted to the quick turnaround from hard court to clay.
“We’re feeling good,” Bopanna said. “Coming into the French Open, we’ve played a lot of matches. There are extremely good teams out there but if we play to our potential, we definitely have a great chance of going deep in the tournament, and maybe even winning it.”