‘Getting back to top-5 my priority’

“I am very happy to team up with Aisam again. We have had a reasonable amount of success previously and look forward to a lot more this time around,” says Rohan Bopanna in this interview with Kamesh Srinivasan.

It has been a memorable season for Rohan Bopanna. For a while, he made it to a career-best No. 3 ranking in doubles. He, along with Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France, frightened the all-conquering Bryan twins, Bob and Mike, in a thrilling five-setter in the Wimbledon semifinals.

Bopanna, 33, did raise hopes of making the season-ending World Tour Finals in London, when he won the Tokyo event, partnering Roger-Vasselin, to bag 500 ATP points. But in the end he could not make it.

In a season in which he competed with eight partners, Bopanna had done well to win two titles. Now he has decided to team up again with Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi of Pakistan for the next season, and is confident of doing very well in the professional Tour.

Though close to Mahesh Bhupathi, with whom he competed in the London Olympics and made the final of the World Tour Finals in London last year, Bopanna has a healthy respect for Leander Paes as well. The ace doubles player spoke to Sportstar.

The excerpts:

Question: How happy are you with the way the season progressed, taking you to a career best rank of No. 3?

Answer: Reaching my career best of No. 3 and making the semifinals of Wimbledon for the first time have to be the highlights of this year! Though winning an ATP 250 and a 500 title was also a great feeling. It was a tough year but I am happy with the way it eventually turned out.

The end of the season was not great, and you have not been able to make the World Tour Finals in London, after having enjoyed such a brilliant finish last year with Mahesh Bhupathi...

Yes, compared to last two seasons, this year did not end the way I would have liked to… qualification for the London Masters. A regular partner would have helped me to qualify for the London Masters. I was playing with eight different partners and that made qualification that much harder. Edouard and me had an excellent second half of the year playing eight tournaments together but this was not enough for me to qualify for the Masters.

Your ranking has slipped out of Top-10.

My ranking this year has fluctuated mainly because of change in partners. Going forward next year, I will be playing with Aisam and we will be seeded in all the tournaments. So the drop in the rankings will not have much of an effect next season.

Despite playing limited tournaments together, you and Roger-Vasselin came very close to making the World Final. What is the reason for the split?

Yes, we did have a good run playing together! We chose to separate as both of us are professionals. His main focus is singles and mine continues to be doubles. Playing with him is not easy as we never practise together but only warm up just before matches and then start playing tournaments. Also, my schedule was based on his schedule, for example post Wimbledon, Edouard played a few ATP 250 events in the USA and decided to take a break and rest during an ATP 500 (Washington) and an ATP 1000 (Montreal) events, and I chose to play with a different partner. As a professional, I am trying to improve every day as a player and as a team and regular practice with the partner plays a major part in the combination trying to win a Grand Slam. Hence I wanted to play with an established doubles player for 2014. Edouard is a fantastic guy and he completely understood this decision of mine.

About your spell with Mahesh this season and why both of you decided to play separately with other partners?

Hesh had indicated that he wanted to play fewer tournaments and was looking to retirem next year. Post French Open, we decided to split and find new partners for Wimbledon. Hesh and I did very well in the ATP scoring format but struggled in the normal scoring format, so we decided to try different partners, to see how it goes, and it actually paid off for us in Wimbledon.

What had prompted you to partner Rajeev Ram?

I asked a few players who were ranked in the Top-30 but unfortunately everyone had their partners already set and the options were very limited. Rajeev and I had played together before and had reasonable success. Unfortunately post Indian Wells, Rajeev lost a few points and his ranking dropped. This made it impossible for us to qualify for tournaments on clay, prompting me to look for other options. As it turned out Mahesh was looking for a partner at the same time and since we had played together before, it was an easy choice to make.

How do you view the return of Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi as your partner after a two-year gap? Are you confident that both of you can recreate the magic and possibly win a Grand Slam?

I am very happy to team up with Aisam again. We have had a reasonable amount of success previously and look forward to a lot more this time around. We have a great understanding of each other’s game and the experience of playing with different partners has only helped both of us improve our individual games.

About your support staff.

These guys are the most important people in the circuit and in my career. My coach, Scott Davidoff, has played the sport and been coaching in the ATP circuit for many years. Scott specialises in coaching doubles. So, his knowledge has really helped me transform my game. He has helped me to become a more complete player over the last few years… making me focus on my strengths. He makes sure that I am training almost every day on my serves and volleys which are the main components of a player aiming to win doubles titles at the highest level.

My trainer, Yash Pandey, hails from Mumbai and has been with me for a year and half. Now Yash is the one keeping me healthy and fit, making sure I am well warmed up before practice and getting my stretches done at the end of the day with a recovery massage and making sure I am fit and ready for matches. These guys play a major role in my success.

Travelling around the world after marriage is tough. How has your wife taken it?

Travelling around the world as a professional is lonely and it is not fun as people think it to be. But these days playing at the highest level in the best of tournaments and having a coach, trainer and my wife with me is a major boost for sure.

Supriya enjoys travelling, especially since it is our first year together. She has always loved travelling and enjoys seeing new places. Also, watching me in action live instead of having to follow my scores online is an added incentive as it helps her understand the level of commitment required from a professional athlete to make it to the highest level. She is a psychologist by profession but at the moment she is being a very supportive wife and giving me all the courage and not worrying about herself and letting me live my dream. I can’t thank her enough for that.

What are your targets for the next season?

The target for the next year is to be a consistent contender at every tournament that we compete in. Grand Slams are the main aim, of course. Qualifying for the London Masters at the end of the year is another goal that I personally want to achieve. Career-wise, getting back to the Top-5 rankings of the world would be my priority.

How keen are you to play the Davis Cup against Chinese Taipei in Indore?

I have always said that I am available to represent my country in the coming Davis Cup ties. We will have to wait and watch whether they select me or not.

Indian tennis looks healthy now as many players are travelling around the world to become better professionals, and players like Divij Sharan and Purav Raja have made the breakthroughs.

It is fabulous to see Indian tennis looking up and the future looks very bright. I have always told the boys to believe in themselves because as long as they keep working and training hard the results will come their way. I think after Purav and Divij won a title together it has given them a taste of the ATP world and the belief in their abilities to continue playing at that level.

Paes’s achievement at the age of 40…

Playing continuously for number of years has taken a toll on Hesh and Paes. Tennis at the end of the day is an individual sport and it depends a lot on how the player handles his diet, fitness etc. Playing at the highest level involves a lot of travelling, staying away from family for long duration… it is quite strenuous. For Leander to win the U.S. open at 40 is a fabulous achievement and there is no doubt about his effort and commitment.

It may be too early to ask, but do you foresee competing in the Rio Olympics with Leander Paes?

It is indeed very early to be talking about Rio, especially with tennis being such an intense sport. But yes, there is always a possibility.