Feature

Want to provide youngsters with everything I didn’t have: Rohan Bopanna

The Rohan Bopanna Tennis Academy provides tennis training and education under one roof

By Deepti Patwardhan ·

As an Indian playing a global sport, Rohan Bopanna has witnessed the chasm between the haves and have nots closely. In the last 17 years, he has competed with players from countries like Spain, France and USA, who pour money and resources into their development program and churn out new talent by the year.

India, meanwhile, doesn’t even have a national academy or coaching programme in place.

The 40-year-old is hoping to provide a semblance of a structure with the Rohan Bopanna Tennis Academy, which opened doors in 2016.

“I am basically trying to provide everything I didn’t have as a youngster,” Bopanna, who reached Melbourne for the Australian Open on Saturday, told Olympic Channel.

“First and foremost, we are giving the option of boarding, lodging, education and tennis in one place. From the place they are staying, to the tennis court, and back will probably take them four to five minutes.

“We are also focusing on tennis-specific training. Especially the youngsters. We have a good team run by Chelston Pinto. He understands what tennis players need specifically. He trains other athletes and plays football himself, so he knows exactly that tennis players require different set of exercises. That’s what we are trying to structurally start. We are not saying that tomorrow they will become champions. But we are giving them a pathway,” he added.

Bopanna, who hails from Coorg, took up the sport relatively late – when he was 11 years old. As there weren’t any tennis academies close by, he was forced to shift base to Pune, Maharashtra.

“For four years, I would commute almost 15-16 kilometres per day on my bicycle,” says Bopanna, who won the mixed doubles title at the 2017 French Open with Canada's Gabriela Dabrowski.

“I was training at Deccan Gymkhana but living in Navsahyadri, which is four kilometres away. Fitness was in PYC in the morning. Tennis at Deccan Gym in the afternoon. So it was easily about 16 kms every day. And I was living in a hostel.”

He has made sure that youngsters today don’t have to spend extra energy just getting from one place to another by building a high-performance centre that provides tennis training, nutritious meals, education and physical training all under one roof.

“Boarding is an option we are giving. They can join the school if they want, or they can come only for tennis in they prefer,” he says.

“We are now giving out scholarships to kids. Lot of the parents still think that there’s some other agenda to it. Because nobody has done something like this before. Here we are giving them the opportunity to get up to 100% scholarship. Both education and tennis. Because we really feel, who knows maybe tennis tomorrow doesn’t go well but at least education is going on simultaneously.”

Bopanna even trained at his academy in the pre-season.

“It was a good group, from 14 year olds to 40, being me,” he says. “We had a good two and a half weeks of training camp in Bangalore at the Academy. There were a lot of students, almost about 18-20 students. We had also brought in a couple of physios. It was a good mix; we pushed each other a lot.”

The Indian doubles star will begin his 2021 with one of the ATP events in Melbourne, which will serve as a warm-up for the Australian Open. Bopanna will team up with Portugal’s Joao Sousa for the two tournaments.