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"Qualifying rules for Tokyo doubles don't make sense" - Rohan Bopanna on the Olympics, Denis Shapovalov, his new academy and more

Rohan Bopanna
Rohan Bopanna
FEATURED COLUMNIST

Rohan Bopanna is currently India’s highest-ranked doubles player. The 41-year-old is ranked No. 40 in the world and has maintained a spot in the top 50 every week since July 2010. That’s an incredible 11 consecutive years in the top 50.

The former World No. 3 is back in India after the European clay and grasscourt season. While he reached the quarterfinals of the French Open with Croatian partner Franko Skugor, his Wimbledon campaign ended in the first round after he and Divij Sharan were beaten by Edouard Roger-Vasselin and Henri Kontinen.

Bopanna also reached the round of 16 in the mixed doubles draw with Sania Mirza.

In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Bopanna spoke about his results over the past few months, his thoughts on the qualification process for the Tokyo Olympics, his tennis academy in Coimbatore and his upcoming schedule.

Exclusive Interview with Rohan Bopanna

Sportskeeda: Looking back at the last couple of months, you had some good results. You reached the quarterfinals at Halle and Eastbourne, but suffered an early exit in Wimbledon. Were you happy with the grasscourt season?

Rohan Bopanna: Obviously, I expected to do a lot better. The fact is that I have always enjoyed playing on grass. After the French Open, I had to change partners because I was asked by the Federation (AITA) to play with Divij because of the chance to go to Tokyo.

We got off to a good start in Halle, got a couple of good wins there and got some confidence. We lost a close match in Eastbourne to Nikola Mektic/Mate Pavic (leaders in the ATP Doubles Race and 2021 Wimbledon champions).

At Wimbledon against Kontinen and Roger-Vasselin, we definitely had our chances and should have won that match. Overall, looking at the grasscourt season, it definitely could have been better.

Sportskeeda: Regarding the Olympics, there have been some changes over the last few days with Sumit Nagal getting a direct entry into singles and the AITA submitting an application for you and Nagal to feature as the doubles team from India. What are your thoughts on that? (Note - the interview was conducted before the news of the final entry list for the Olympics was confirmed).

Rohan Bopanna: It changes nothing, because whether it's Divij or Sumit, we are not qualified at the moment. The ITF (International Tennis Federation) rules are very complicated. They clearly make no sense because doubles and singles are two different disciplines.

You can't have the same criteria for both because there are a lot of players across the world who try and qualify and get their rankings high enough to represent the country.

The ITF deciding that the singles ranking is a priority for a doubles event really does not make sense to me. At the end of the day, you cannot have guys whose combined ranking is below you and then still get priority to play ahead of you.

In that sense, it’s very difficult for an athlete. At all the other tournaments, be it the ATP or the ITF, which looks after the Grand Slams, the combined ranking is what is considered irrespective of whether it is singles players partnering singles players or singles players playing with doubles players.

The AITA did change the nomination from Divij to Sumit because according to the rules, playing with a singles player is higher on the list of alternates as compared to a doubles player. But at the end of the day, we have still not qualified.

Another bad thing is the ITF did not release any information to anyone with regards to the list of alternates. Earlier, when I spoke to the AITA, they said we were the second alternates but we did not know who the first alternates were. Even when we were the fourth alternates, we did not know who the teams ahead of us were.

What they said is that if a player has already qualified for singles, they want to prioritize them and give that person a chance to play doubles instead of sending two fresh doubles players due to COVID-19 restrictions.

At the end of the day, it is the Olympics, which happens once every four years. It's not like there are 10-15 extra players going there, there might have been two or three at most.

Another option would have been to send a couple of alternate teams if for some reason one of them had to pull out. It doesn't make sense to give a walkover in the first round, so there should be some provision to have a couple of alternate teams on-site as well.

Sportskeeda: At Wimbledon, you were seen in the stands cheering on Denis Shapovalov, who you played doubles with last year. Denis said some very nice things about you in his press conference. What do you think about his game and his potential?

Denis Shapovalov
Denis Shapovalov

Rohan Bopanna: First of all, I think it was such a great effort for him to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon. I truly believe that he has all the potential to keep constantly knocking on the door at these big tournaments, at the Grand Slams, and go on to win one of them.

Even this year, in the semi-finals (against Novak Djokovic), had he won that first set, a lot of things could have changed. He was playing really well. He was strong from the back and his serve was his strength. With somebody like that who has so much potential, it's really nice to see it all coming together. It's great to see him put in a good amount of work and play really well.

The entire team working with him, including (coach) Mikhail Youzhny, who could not be there at Wimbledon, are doing a great job. I've known Denis for some time and I played doubles with him for a while. So, I was just there as a good friend encouraging him to do well and to provide support as well.

Especially during COVID times and the bubble life, you don't really have many people traveling with you so it's nice to have some encouragement when you're playing matches.Whenever I can help him with my experience, whenever he needs something, I am there.

Sportskeeda: Given your relationship with Denis and your own academy, do you see yourself becoming a full-time coach for a younger player sometime down the line?

Rohan Bopanna: One of the biggest reasons behind me starting my academy in Bangalore is that there is so much experience for me to share with these players. It doesn't matter whether you're a singles player or a doubles player, when you come out on court and have so much experience, it will definitely benefit others.

A lot of people playing at the highest level understand that better than many others in India. In India, many parents may say, “Okay, Rohan has played doubles. How much will he know about singles?” But that is not the case.

At the end of the day, you're not there to teach someone a forehand or a backhand. It’s about sharing your experiences so that when your your kid happens to be playing in a Grand Slam or an ATP Masters Series, he knows how to handle the situation.

Sportskeeda: You recently launched a Rohan Bopanna Tennis Academy centre in Coimbatore. Can you shed some more light on this new venture?

Rohan Bopanna: We have been trying to do something for a while now but due to COVID, we were not able to. We have launched our new center and it will be ready in the first week of August. It will be a development center for beginners or intermediate players.

The center in Bangalore is where all the advanced players train. I really believe that a lot of cities like Coimbatore have great talent. Unfortunately, they do not have a good structure and somebody to guide them on how to go about things.

I have moved my entire team from Bangalore to the new center. It is a tie-up with a school called RaKs Pallikkoodam. At times, when kids are at school and they see a sport being played, they tend to pick it up and get involved.

Sportskeeda: Do you have plans to create development centers in other cities as well?

Rohan Bopanna: Yes, definitely. We are looking to see where we can set up a few more development centers. I feel at the end of the day, tennis needs a good structure and then maybe we can think of having players compete at the highest level. Unfortunately, right now in India, we do not have a structure in place for tennis.

Sportskeeda: Looking ahead to the U.S. hardcourt season, who will you be playing doubles with and what does your schedule look like?

Rohan Bopanna: I will be playing with Ivan Dodig in Washington, Toronto, Cincinnati and the US Open.

Edited by Arvind Sriram
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