Feature | Tennis

From a slip at Rio to hopes for Tokyo: India comes first for Rohan Bopanna

With his eyes firmly fixed on Tokyo 2020, Indian tennis star Rohan Bopanna is busy charting his path to Olympic success.

By Naveen Peter ·

There’s hardly anything that excites Rohan Bopanna like the prospect of turning up for his country -- India. 

Be it the Davis Cup or the Asian Games or the Olympics, the 39-year-old Indian tennis star has time and again proved his worth in India colours ever since turning pro in 2003. 

And with the 2020 Olympics inching closer with every passing day, Rohan Bopanna cannot contain his emotions. 

“It’s another exciting season (with the Olympics involved). It’s a great honour to represent India at an event as big as the Olympics,” he tells the Olympic Channel in an exclusive chat with a sense of pride. 

“I am happy to get the title in Doha at the start of the year. But having said that, we have a lot of big events like not only the Grand Slams but also the Masters Series before going into the Olympics. But I am happy and I am looking forward to it,” the Indian tennis ace adds.

While for many tennis stars, the Olympics is often an afterthought given the long list of ‘big-ticket events’ that they play each year, in Bopanna’s case it takes precedence. And he’s happy that the ATP, over the past few editions, has made it a point to include the Olympics in its season plan by having a handful of top events scheduled just ahead of the Games.

“I think the calendar is already planned in such a way that it's between two Grand Slams (Wimbledon and US Open),” believes the Indian tennis player. 

“And you know, in tennis, we have so many big events scheduled in our season that we constantly are playing the best players in the world. So that really helps in making you a better player and make you ready for a big event like the 2020 Olympics,” he says.

The Rohan Bopanna-Divij Sharan partnership

One of the primary changes that doubles players have to adjust to at the Olympics is the change in partner. While on the Tour, a player is allowed to choose his partner irrespective of their nationality, at the Olympics, it’s the nationality that trumps every other norm.

While this might have some scratching their head, Rohan Bopanna isn’t a worried man, especially with Divij Sharan waiting in the wings. Ranked 56th in the doubles circuit, the 33-year-old is one of the finest doubles tennis players in India.

And with the two enjoying decent success on the Tour as a pair, the expectations from Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan at the 2020 Olympics is sky-high.

“At this juncture, Divij and I are the only two players who are high enough (on the ATP Rankings) to try and qualify for the Olympics,” Rohan Bopanna points out. “We played a few events (as a pair) last year and we did end up winning the title in Pune. 

“Really excited to be playing with him. We had the gold medal at the Asian Games. I think we gel well as a team,” the Indian tennis veteran adds.

However, what’s stood out about the two this year is the fact that they no longer play as a pair on the Tour. While one would have hoped for the Bopanna-Sharan machine to roll on in the Olympic year, Rohan Bopanna feels otherwise.

“I think our rankings weren't high enough to get into enough tournaments. The French Open is the cut-off time for the Olympics, and once that's done we have the whole grass-court season,” he says when asked about paring with Divij Sharan in the Olympic year.

“We have our respective partners on the tour now. The key was to make sure we get our individual rankings as high as possible so that we qualify as a team for the Olympics. That is our goal for this year, to ensure we have a representation for India at the 2020 Olympics.”

Rohan Bopanna’s Olympic dream

Rohan Bopanna’s hunger for success doesn’t stop at representation alone. Ask him about India’s chances at the 2020 Olympics, the Bengaluru athlete will have no hesitation in throwing his name into the ring.

“We are confident. We play against the highest teams constantly. We are definitely confident of winning at Tokyo 2020.” he says.

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“Rio 2016 was very close with Sania Mirza (in the mixed doubles). It was heartbreaking indeed. Especially getting a medal for India is a very big thing for not just us as players but for the entire nation. And it's my third Olympics. I have a lot of experience now. And I think, if we prepare well, we have a great shot.”

The pain of losing out on a medal at Rio 2016 might still be fresh in his mind, but Rohan Bopanna doesn’t want that to define his Olympic journey. 

The Indian tennis ace is eager to go the distance at Tokyo 2020. But first up, it’s the race to ensure he has a place at the Ariake Tennis Park come July.