Feature

Tokyo 2020 in his sights, refreshed Rohan Bopanna taking it one tournament at a time

Bopanna, ranked 39, and Divij Sharan, ranked 63, are the only Indian players currently in the top-100 in doubles

By Deepti Patwardhan ·

Control the controllables. The phrase has been called into frequent action this pandemic-affected season. And it is one Indian tennis ace Rohan Bopanna seems to be abiding by.

Though the new ATP season kicks off on Tuesday, January 5, with events in Delray Beach, USA and Antalya, Turkey, the men’s governing body has released the calendar only for the first quarter. It means that players can’t quite plan a schedule leading up to the Tokyo Olympics in July.

But the 40-year-old Bopanna, with almost two decades worth of professional experience, isn’t losing sleep over it.

“I am not looking at it as an Olympic year,” says the 40-year-old from Coorg. “We have to take it as it comes. Right now it’s just about focusing on our individual rankings. That’s the only way to qualify." Rohan Bopanna to Olympic Channel.

Bopanna, ranked 39, and Divij Sharan, ranked 63, are the only Indian players currently in the top-100 in doubles. It will be touch and go for them to qualify as a team, with their combined ranking. But they have till July 7, 2021, to climb further up the ladder and secure a berth for Tokyo.

According to the ITF rules, the top 10 doubles players will qualify automatically for the 32-team event and have a choice of partner (not ranked below 300). With one team spot reserved for the hosts, the rest of the teams have 21 places to compete for.

The Indian will begin his 2021 campaign in Melbourne, at one of the Australian Open tune-up events, beginning January 31. He will team up with Joao Sousa for the first two events of the year, including the Melbourne major.

The pandemic disrupted lives and livelihoods. But Bopanna was one of the fortunate ones who could use the time productively and shift the focus back on fitness. The years on the tennis tour, especially the pounding on hard courts, had worn his knees out, making it near impossible for him to play pain-free. During the six-month tennis hiatus, the Coorgi turned to Iyengar Yoga to mend the issue.

“I have zero cartilage on my knee,” he says. “My bones brush against each other. It’s been extremely painful. There were days when I’d wake up not even want to go out on court."

“During the pandemic I started doing Iyengar Yoga, four times a week for three months. It has helped strengthen the muscles around the knee and take the load off the joint. It has helped with my posture also.

“They use a lot of props: blocks, ropes, different kinds of strength work. You are using your own body weight. And it’s not just about breathing. It’s more of an active yoga. I feel no restrictions in my movement now. And it helps calm the mind.”

Rohan Bopanna  

It also helped him undergo a strenuous two-and-a-half-week pre-season training camp at the Rohan Bopanna Tennis Academy in Bangalore unhindered.

Rather than rushing into the season, by playing in the very first week, the rested and refreshed Bopanna is taking calculated steps, which will, hopefully, lead him to the Olympics.

“Australia, then Montpellier,” he outlines the schedule. “Then Rotterdam, 500 event. Don’t know how tough the field will be there. Again, I made semis there last year, so I don’t have to think about defending points. After that Doha, Dubai and then Miami Masters. I don’t want to wear myself out by playing every week.

“I may not have a fixed partner as such for the first three months but at least I’ll try and get into the big events so I have a chance to make enough points and qualify for the Olympics.”