Bopanna: ‘I’ve had a fulfilling doubles career’

"For me, winning the men’s doubles Grand Slam is something I always want to achieve. I am right there knocking on the door. It’s just a matter of stringing together those matches."

Bopanna, who will partner Leander Paes at the Rio Olympics, concedes they need luck in the draw.   -  N. Sudarshan

The Davis Cup tie against South Korea was a much-awaited one. Not in the expectation of a high-qualify fare, for the Koreans were a severely depleted lot, but to see how the Leander Paes-Rohan Bopanna duo combined ahead of the Rio Olympics.

The straight sets win was flattering indeed, but both Bopanna and Paes would know very well the magnitude of the test that awaits them in Rio. Bopanna spoke to Sportstar on Leander, the medal chances in Rio and his own doubles career. Edited excerpts:

Question: How important was the Davis Cup win?

Answer: The win in itself was great. The Koreans are always tough. They are formidable and head-to-head they have a better record. Saketh [Myneni] and Ramkumar [Ramanathan] played extremely well to get the 2-0 lead. So when Leander and myself came out it wasn’t much pressure. It was all on the Koreans as they had to win to keep the tie alive.

Did the match bring you and Leander closer?

Like i have always said, with Leander and me there was never any problem in chemistry. It is just that our game styles take some time to match up. We had three to four days of good practice and that helped. Even before

Rio we have a few days, though the surface is completely different.

So what clicked against Serbia in that memorable five-set win in 2014 in Bengaluru?

There is a whole combination of things at work. We were two sets to love and a break down. The crowd made a big difference. That got some energy back. Then we started playing better and they perhaps felt the pressure. More so after losing the third set. But it’s not always the case. It was five sets then. In Rio it isn’t. If it had been three sets in Bengaluru, we would have gone home long back.

You and Leander couldn’t have gotten into any events prior to Rio because of the low combined ranking. But did you consider pairing with Sania Mirza for Wimbledon?

I did check. But unfortunately she was committed to playing with Ivan Dodig. It’s a pairing which did well in Australia and the French Open. The only thing I could do was to check with her. But it couldn't happen.

How much did all this affect you?

I don't like to dwell on the past. Like when you lose close matches you have to come out fresh the next tournament. That [thinking] has helped me. I got to the top-10 by picking my own partner. It’s the same when I picked Saketh. But it’s not going to change. We have to be positive and with that we can play great tennis.

How much of a concern is the Zika virus?

It is. I am travelling by myself. My wife isn’t. These are the kind of precautions you take. It’s a serious thing. I am not thinking much beyond that right now but hope it is okay.

Owing to Zika, Tomas Berdych and Milos Raonic have pulled out. What does it do to your chances considering they were to partner Radek Stepanek and Vasek Pospisil respectively?

Pospisil might still play. Say with Daniel Nestor. You know it’s not like India where we have only two players. But I truly believe we need some luck in the 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.

Coming to your doubles career, finally you seem to have found a stable partner in Florin Mergea. How has it been?

Before him I was switching a lot of partners… trying to find the right combination. We started in last April. We had a great year. Starting in April and making the final in the ATP World Tour Finals in November was not easy. We had to perform in all the big tournaments. That was something I think we focussed as a team. That really helped build a partnership and play well on the court. There were tough matches and tough losses. But we understood each other well and kept fighting.

Would you say you have had a fulfilling doubles career thus far?

Absolutely! There are no regrets. And the fact that as a player I gain more and more experience; especially how to focus on the big tournaments and the right tournaments. Like the Grand Slams and the Masters. For me, winning the men’s doubles Grand Slam is something I always want to achieve. I am right there knocking on the door. It’s just a matter of stringing together those matches.

But while India has had great success in doubles, why do you think we still struggle in singles?

We need a system in place. We don’t really have one. Starting from under-eights right up to the men’s tour, we need tournaments happening throughout the year. Look at France, Spain… even China. They have tons of tournaments from January to December. It makes a lot of difference. Players don’t have to travel. The federation doing stuff, the sponsors coming in will all collectively help. So you need a system to be set in place. For example you have [Kei] Nishikori. After his rise, now they have six or eight players in the top-200. Because the system has changed, sponsors have come in. Just see around the world. Wherever it has worked, it has worked this way. Even in the

US. The USTA supports a lot of athletes, there are so many tournaments and sponsors.

And there is the tendency to shift to doubles…

You have to look at it both career-wise and financially. If your singles ranking is very low, if you are not making the amount of money you are spending, you either stop tennis completely and do something else, or play doubles and see. It’s not that everybody who stops singles and plays doubles gets to the top-10. But you try. When I made the shift I was almost 30. I had to make a decision — whether I continue playing in the challengers in singles or play the ATP tour events and Grand Slams in doubles.

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