Divij Sharan’s rise: From idolizing Lee-Hesh to becoming Olympic hope

The world no. 56 has five ATP titles to his name and is expected to partner Rohan Bopanna at the Tokyo Games.

By Subhayan Dutta ·

Divij Sharan has come a long way.

From a wide-eyed child watching Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, to winning an Asian Games gold medal and now being nominated for the Arjuna Award.

Approaching 2020 at the back of two ATP doubles titles in 2019, 34-year-old Divij Sharan is one of India’s probables to represent the country at the upcoming Tokyo Games.

And reflecting on his 16-year-old long professional career, the New Delhi-native hopes to continue going stronger in the years to come.

“I remember watching Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi and I thinking that’s what I really wanted to do - to be able to play for the country and represent it in Davis Cup and the Grand Slams,” Divij Sharan reflected when speaking to the Olympic Channel from his home in Manchester.

“It has been an honour and a privilege to play for my country. I am still going strong and will hopefully improve on whatever I have achieved,” he added.

The journey so far has been a long and fruitful one for Divij Sharan.

Since reaching the 2004 French Open semi-final in the Grand Slam junior championships as an 18-year-old alongside compatriot Tushar Liberhan, Divij Sharan has made his way up through the ranks and boasts of as many as five ATP titles today.

“After a good junior season, I spent 5-6 years playing ITF Futures and another four-five years playing ATP Challengers,” the veteran recalled.

“Now, I am playing the ATP tours, the Grand Slams, the Davis Cup and others. It has been a very positive journey for me,” the Arjuna Award nominee said.

Olympic postponement lends time

Having paired with Rohan Bopanna to win the 2018 Asian Games gold as well as the 2019 Tata Open Maharashtra, the duo is India’s best hope in the doubles category at the Tokyo Olympics.

And while the Summer Games getting postponed by a year, owing to the coronavirus outbreak, did throw some athletes off-gear, Sharan believes it has worked well for him and Rohan Bopanna.

“I feel the postponement is good. It gives both me and Rohan time to work on our rankings and game,” he pointed out.

“We will get time to play more tournaments before the Olympics happen. We are in a good spot and once things are settled down, we will be working on our game,” he added.

Divij Sharan and Rohan Bopanna had finished their national duties in India’s Davis Cup tie against Croatia in Zagreb following which the COVID-19 pandemic suspended all sporting events.

Though Rohan Bopanna partnered Leander Paes in the Davis Cup tie, Divij Sharan revealed that he and Bopanna were planning to play together for the clay season after pairing up in bits and pieces over the last one year.

“We had spoken about playing tournaments in Morocco, Hungary and Portugal,” he said.

“These were the three tournaments in the clay court season that we were looking to play in our lead up to the French Open.”

Getting back the touch

With the lockdowns now starting to relax over the past few weeks, Divij Sharan was one of the few Indian athletes who managed to start training outdoors after a gap of 66 days.

The Indian ace took to a court in Manchester, on May 13, with his wife Samantha Murray Sharan. And although things were slow initially, Divij Sharan is seeing longer practice sessions over time.

“The first few sessions were rusty but with every passing day we feel that we are hitting the ball better,” he observed.

“The first session was 45 minutes. Now, we have increased the time over the period.

“It became over an hour a few days back and now we are practising two hours. So, the progress has been good,” he pointed out.

However, with the tennis calendar now halted indefinitely until things improve, Divij Sharan isn’t overexerting himself and has limited his training to four-five times a week.

“There’s no point going to the court and playing a crazy amount as we don’t have any tournaments in the near future,” Divij Sharan reasoned. “I’m doing things in moderation and keeping myself fit. 

“So, if the resumption is announced and I have a month to prepare, I will be ready,” he asserted.