The accent is on right guidance

“I am not in this for the business. People are surprised and shocked that I am putting so much of my money into the project. But, if we don’t help Indian tennis, who will?” asks Rohan Bopanna, who is very excited about his tennis academy taking shape

Rohan Bopanna... “I can only set up a nice system for the kids. It is up to them to capitalise on it.”   -  K. MURALI KUMAR

He may be perceived as the fourth star in Indian tennis, behind Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza, but when it comes to striving hard towards making a difference to the game in the country, Rohan Bopanna is second to none.

Even as Bopanna focuses on playing his best on the Tour in a season of hope, during which he won his maiden Grand Slam title — the French Open mixed doubles crown with Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada — the 37-year-old is keen to help fellow players realise their potential and reach the next level.

After bowing out in the quarterfinals in mixed doubles and second round in doubles in Wimbledon, Bopanna rushed back home to streamline things at his academy in Bengaluru, which is driven by the Rohan Bopanna Tennis Foundation.

A major title at last... Rohan Bopanna of India and partner Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada with the trophy after winning the mixed doubles title at the French Open.   -  Getty Images

 

“We are getting two coaches from Serbia and the UK, who will be based here for a year. We have already rented a house for them,” said Bopanna, quite excited about his vision taking shape.

He is very clear that the juniors deserve the best guidance. “I am not in this for the business. I have the passion to put a structure in place. People are surprised and shocked that I am putting so much of my money into the project. But, if we don’t help Indian tennis, who will?” asked Bopanna.

Quite open to guiding anyone whenever he is in Bengaluru, Bopanna was of the view that most of the coaches were scared of letting their kids go, even to play tournaments!

“The idea of getting two top-class coaches is to ensure the right guidance for the kids at a young age. It will also help my other coaches to learn the right methods and travel with some of the players who need guidance,” he remarked.

Many kids travel abroad to avail of the best of training from the experts. But that costs a lot of money.

“I can only set up a nice system for the kids. It is up to them to capitalise on it. They spend so much money to go abroad. I think we can do something for the kids in the 15-18 age group. They need all the guidance,” said Bopanna.

Bopanna is running his project on four clay courts for about 70 kids. He plans to add a synthetic surface soon.

His vision is not restricted to the juniors. He also has an eye on players trying to make the breakthrough.

Bopanna was willing to support Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan and launched a partnership with him by winning the doubles title at the Chennai Open at the start of this season. He is excited about Ramkumar Ramanathan winning matches in the Challenger and Tour events. Having slogged in the professional circuit for so many years, taking slow but steady steps to a career-best doubles ranking of No.3 and playing the U.S. Open final with Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi of Pakistan in 2010, Bopanna knows what it takes to compete at the higher level.

Ramkumar Ramanathan of India reacts after scoring a point against David Ferrer of Spain in a Davis Cup World Group play-off tie in New Delhi last year. According to Rohan Bopanna, Ramkumar is maturing as a player.   -  Sandeep Saxena

 

“Ram has tasted success at a higher level against top players. Now he sees the real thing and the importance of playing the bigger events. It does make a difference to fight for better returns. He is ranked No. 168 now and can get into the qualifying events of most of the ATP events. In fact, we have two guys in the top-200, and it is for the government and the federation to help them break into the top-100,” Bopanna observed.

Yuki Bhambri, returning to action after an injury lay-off, has been stepping it up gradually. He had reached a career-best rank of No. 88 in November 2015 before a painful elbow dashed his dreams of playing in the majors. While Yuki seems certain of his path to the top-100, all the excitement is about Ramkumar.

“Ram has the game, and he is playing good tennis. He is maturing as a player. I spoke to the coach of the player who had beaten him in the first round of the French Open qualifiers, and he said that Ram has a good serve, but doesn’t have a plan in place and that his backhand was vulnerable on the slow surface,” recalled Bopanna.

He was categorical that only a good coach like Emilio Sanchez, who has been guiding Ramkumar this season, can make a difference to his game.

“Ram stayed with me for a week in Barcelona, and I saw him for two weeks. He needs a coach who he would listen to. If Sanchez can’t travel with him, there should be a coach who can travel with him for 10 to 12 weeks, at least. Listening to the coach over the telephone is fine when you are playing good and getting the results. But when you hit a rough patch and lose close matches, you would need someone on the road to handle the situation and take you forward,” Bopanna explained.

Whenever a player like Ramkumar gets a chance to compete at the higher level, he should not miss it at any cost. “I keep telling all the players, when you are getting an entry into a Tour event, go for it. Don’t take a break then, no matter the number of events you may have played until then. Make use of the opportunity. You never know when the breakthrough would come. No point spoiling the chance yourself,” said Bopanna.

He was also clear that a player of the calibre of Ramkumar would play the Futures “only to protect his ranking.” Bopanna pointed out that even at the Masters events, it is a matter of winning two rounds to make the main draw. “If you qualify at that level, you not only get to play the top players but also get some money that would help you play other tournaments or hire a travelling coach or a trainer,” he said.

Ramkumar, according to Bopanna, has the habit of listening to 20 people and saying yes to all of them, but eventually doing things his own way. “Ram has the hunger and the ability. It is a very crucial stage in his career,” said Bopanna.

He was quite candid that Ramkumar, 22, had to take the right decisions not just for his own sake, but for Indian tennis too.

Bopanna is running his project on four clay courts for about 70 kids. He plans to add a synthetic surface soon. His vision is not restricted to the juniors. He also has an eye on players trying to make the breakthrough. Bopanna was also willing to support Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan and launched a partnership with him by winning the doubles title at the Chennai Open at the start of this season.

Yuki Bhambri, returning to action after an injury lay-off, has been stepping it up gradually. He had reached a career-best rank of No. 88 in November 2015 before a painful elbow dashed his dreams of playing in the majors. While Yuki seems certain of his path to the top-100, all the excitement is about Ramkumar.

Ramkumar, according to Bopanna, has the habit of listening to 20 people and saying yes to all of them, but eventually doing things his own way. “Ram has the hunger and the ability. It is a very crucial stage in his career,” said Bopanna.