Bopanna: ‘Ready to win laurels’

"I am really playing at a high level. The government has supported us very well and that has helped me travel with my coach Scott Davidoff and trainer Yash Pandey. I know that we have a chance to win a medal in tennis," says Rohan Bopanna, ahead of Rio 2016.

Rohan Bopanna and Leander Paes gained some valuable match practice ahead of the Olympics during the Davis Cup tie against Korea in Chandigarh.   -  AKHILESH KUMAR

As a professional tennis player, Rohan Bopanna respects no reputation. But, of course, he has a lot of respect for the 43-year-old Leander Paes, the only tennis player in the world getting ready for his seventh Olympics.

Bopanna says his decision to indicate Saketh Myneni — and not Leander Paes — as his doubles partner for Rio was based on practicality. He was fully aware of opening up a raging debate and ultimately the national federation chose to ignore his opinion and picked him and Paes as India’s doubles team for the Olympics.

The federation’s decision to not accede to a player’s demand was nothing new as Paes, a top-10 player then, did not get to play with Bopanna in the London Olympics, despite expressing his interest.

“Yes, that is a point,” Bopanna agrees, when his argument about a top-10 player having the choice of a partner was countered with a past episode. “Mahesh and I had prepared the whole season in 2012, keeping the Olympics in mind. The national federation could have clarified right at the start and we would have followed the rule. They didn’t learn from the experience either,” he says.

Bhupathi, a former world No.1 in doubles, returned to the circuit from the wilderness, to play a few tournaments in 2016, reaching 166 in the doubles ranking. He also tried out many Indian partners like Yuki Bhambri, Myneni and Purav Raja in these tournaments, raising speculation that he was trying to give Bopanna an option for Rio.

Everything hinged on the point that Bopanna will break into the top-10 and get his choice of partner.

“I was defending about 1000 points. In the clay court circuit, I made about 1300 points to earn the top-10 rank in time and ensured an Indian doubles entry in the Olympics,” Bopanna points out.

Going back to his preference for Myneni over Paes, Bopanna adds: “It is purely the playing style. People keep talking about the chemistry. There was never any problem of chemistry between Leander and me.”

The two had pulled off one of the finest Davis Cup wins for India after being down by two sets and a break against Serbia in a World Group play-off in 2014 in Bengaluru. Of course, Paes and Bopanna had a forgettable tie against the Czech Republic last year, before they regained some lost ground, on grass against Korea in Chandigarh recently.

“I like playing with partners who have a big game. Saketh fits that well. It would have been a great opportunity for Saketh to play the Olympics, especially after his improvement in recent years. We have to think of the future, rather than how great someone has done over the years,” he says. “Leander and I have always got along well. But, our game style does not match up.”

But keeping all that controversy behind, Bopanna now has a great chance to fight for two medals in Rio. He will partner world No.1 women’s doubles star Sania Mirza in the mixed doubles event, which has a small field of 16 teams.

“I have had good performances with Sania because she is an attacking player, who hits the big shots,” Bopanna stresses.

The towering Bopanna did want to play one or two Grand Slams with Sania this season, but it didn’t materialise as she was already committed to partner Ivan Dodig of Croatia.

Bopanna feels confident about his chances in Rio. “I am really playing at a high level. The government has supported us very well and that has helped me travel with my coach Scott Davidoff and trainer Yash Pandey. I know that we have a chance to win a medal in tennis,” he says. “But, I truly believe we need some luck in the (men’s doubles) draw as well. We may not be seeded. That’s going to be tough. We could play anyone. And as for mixed doubles, it is the toughest event. With a 10-point super tie-breaker everybody has a chance. It’s like winning a lottery.”