After a tough year on the ATP tour which was plagued by off-court controversies, Rohan Bopanna is ready to put his struggles behind as heads into a new season with a new men's doubles partner with renewed vigour.
The ace doubles player spoke at a press conference in the premises of the Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association, where he signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between EduSports and his Rohan Bopanna Tennis Academy(RBTA).
EduSports reaches out to 5 Lakh children all across India, providing sports solutions and finding a way to inculcate sports at a young age, and eventually aiming to integrate sports into the academic curriculum.
Bopanna was not ready to shed too much into the controversies that surrounded Indian tennis over the past year. He said, "The things that happened, happened. There was nothing that I could do about it. All I could do was forget about this, put this behind me and ensure I gave my best on court."
The top-ranked Indian man in doubles said he was ready to put the past year behind him and head into the next season, where he has a new partner in Uruguayan, Pablo Cuevas.
He said, "The foundation has always been the same, work hard, train hard. There are no shortcuts. The only way is to keep training hard and believe in myself."
"Pablo predominantly plays singles, and much like Florin Mergea, he serves and stays on the baseline, with strong groundstrokes. Also, his focus will be on the singles. So we will pick tournaments based on his schedules."
But Bopanna added that choosing tournaments would not be an issue at all. "With his ranking in the singles, we would probably have only two or three tournaments where we don't play together, but those are 250s and not the 500s or the Masters series events."
The duo's first tournament together will be in early January when they play the Sydney Open. Following that, Bopanna said they will play the Australian Open and the Master's series events in Dubai, Indian Wells and Miami.
Bopanna said he was excited about the current crop of Indian tennis players. He said, "In the doubles, Purav (Raja) and Divij (Sharan) have had a great year, so too Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan. Saketh (Myneni) made the US Open main draw, where he could have won if not for cramps."
The Bangalore-man had particularly glowing things to say about the singles players.
"There is Saketh obviously, Ramkumar (Ramanathan) and Yuki (Bhambri) are very promising and just need to be consistent and keep playing on the highest level for as long as they can."
Bopanna stressed on the need for top singles players if India are to achieve big things on the world stage - in competitions like the Davis Cup. He said, "The last three years, we have made the World Group playoff but fallen short. To win a Davis Cup tie, you need top singles players, as they get you four of the five points in the tie. In all the World Group playoffs that we played, the opposition had one or two top-ten players which made it particularly difficult. But for now, we will be playing New Zealand (Asia-Oceania Group Qualifier) in Pune, and I can't wait to get started. Hopefully, Saketh, Yuki and Ram will be back and fully fit and ready by then."
Bopanna lamented the lack of a structure within the tennis community in the country. He pointed out that the federations in the US, France and Australia particularly get coaches to travel with the developing singles players.
"Tennis can be a lonely sport. And it is expensive to have a trainer, a physio, a coach to travel with you to all tournaments. So, the federation with the help of corporate sponsorships will have to do more."
"For singles especially, by the time we learn the tricks of the trade, the body does not cope with us playing singles, and we move to the doubles. We need a systemic change, promote tennis at the grassroots and we will soon have a lot of quality singles players in the country."
On a potential partnership with Sania Mirza in the Grand Slams, Bopanna said it was an idea that both of them were open to. But he said there were issues that could come in the way.
"Right now, Sania has a really good partnership with Ivan Dodig and they're doing really well. Also, their combined ranking gets them much better seedings. My ranking took a hit last year and it is a crucial aspect to selecting your partner, especially in the mixed."