Asian Games, Davis Cup: At 43, Rohan Bopanna braces for curtain call
After living in the shadow of Paes-Bhupathi for years, the ageless warrior of Indian tennis is basking in all the attention
When the lumbering figure of Rohan Bopanna, 43, steps out with doubles partner Yuki Bhambri for India's Davis Cup World Group II tie against Morocco in Lucknow on Sunday, 17 September, the loudest cheers will be reserved for him. It will be his farewell appearance in the prestigious team event, following which he will have a last hurrah for India at the Asian Games in Hangzhou.
It’s turning out to be a memorable month for the ageless warrior of Indian tennis, who has lived under the shadows of a larger-than-life Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi for the better part of his career. Yet, the Bangalorean worked tirelessly on his doubles game and made headlines when he became the oldest player to make a slam final at the US Open.
The combination of Bopanna and Matthew Ebden raised expectations of a fourth Indian (after Paes, Bhupathi and Sania Mirza) to win a slam doubles title, but they came up short against Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury in the final. Bopanna, however, won over the tennis fraternity with a memorable act of sportsmanship in the final set of such a high stakes game.
Trailing 2-4, Ebden hit a crosscourt forehand that grazed the Indian’s right arm before it crossed the net and continued on for a winner. The chair umpire did not notice the touch, but Bopanna called it on himself, forfeiting the point. “That's the person I have been through my career, and I really feel if something — it doesn't matter what the scoreline or what the occasion of the match is — if something was not right, it was not right,’’ he said matter-of-factly later.
No wonder ‘Bofors,’ as Bopanna was nicknamed earlier in his career for his big serve, is being showered with praise on the eve of his curtain call. All India Tennis Association (AITA) felicitated Bopanna as he joined the Indian camp for the Davis Cup tie, which got underway at the Vijayant Khand Mini Stadium in Gomti Nagar, Lucknow on Saturday, 16 September.
Speaking at the event, AITA president Anil Jain expressed his admiration for the veteran: “The Davis Cup is a prestigious tournament and has witnessed many legendary moments. On behalf of AITA and all tennis enthusiasts in the country, we congratulate Rohan Bopanna and we all are eagerly waiting to witness him serving one last time for India at the Davis Cup. We applaud his dedication and the way he played at the US Final and honoured the spirit of the game.”
Mirza, the recently retired icon who had won a mixed doubles title with Bopanna in the National Championships in Delhi in the early 2000s, was ecstatic to see her good friend still going strong at the highest level of the game.
‘’Sometimes I feel he is, or has been, under-achieving, so it is good to see him finally play to his potential and get such results at this stage,’’ said Mirza, a former world No. 1 doubles star along with Martina Hingis. ‘’As for the person, he is one of the most solid and sorted, and honest individuals I know.’’
Once the Davis Cup is out of the way, Bopanna will lend a vital experience quotient to the 12-member squad in the tennis event at the Asian Games. The men’s team comprises India’s Sumit Nagal, Sasikumar Mukund, Davis Cupper Ramkumar Ramanathan, Yuki Bhambri and Saketh Myneni, besides Bopanna.
The women’s contingent will be led by Ankita Raina, a singles bronze medallist at the last Games, Karman Kaur Thandi, Rutuja Bhosle, Sahaja Yamalapalli, Vaidehi Chaudhari and Prarthane Thombare.
For the record, India won a gold and had two bronze medal finishes in Jakarta, where the Bopanna-Divij Sharan pair defeated Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bublik and Denis Yevseyev to clinch the doubles gold, with Prajnesh Gunneswaran winning bronze in men’s singles.