Rohan Bopanna’s road to doubles Grand Slam glory: 19 different partners, 61 attempts, one aim

An Australian Open title, a Padma Shri nomination and now a world no.1 ranking - Rohan Bopanna’s ‘level 43’ is looking pretty good.

Published : Jan 29, 2024 07:26 IST - 5 MINS READ

FILE PHOTO: Rohan Bopanna of India inn action during the men’s doubles final at the Australian Open 2024.
FILE PHOTO: Rohan Bopanna of India inn action during the men’s doubles final at the Australian Open 2024. | Photo Credit: AP

FILE PHOTO: Rohan Bopanna of India inn action during the men’s doubles final at the Australian Open 2024. | Photo Credit: AP

The last 10 days have been unlike any other for Rohan Bopanna ever since he made his ATP Tour debut in doubles 22 years ago in Chennai.

Bopanna and his Australian partner Matthew Ebden, second seeds, were down 0-5 in their opening-round match at the Australian before they staged a comeback to beat James Duckworth and Polmans, local wildcards. It was Bopanna’s 500th win in Tour-level matches.

On Thursday, he was selected for the Padma Shri award, the fourth highest civilian honour.

A day later, he clinched his maiden Grand Slam men’s doubles title with a 7-6(0), 7-5 win over Italy’s Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori in the final. And on Monday, he will be officially confirmed as the new doubles World No. 1 in the ATP Rankings.

He achieved all this at the age of 43 or as he likes to call it - ‘level 43.’

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After hitting an overhead smash to seal the title in Melbourne on Saturday, Bopanna fell flat on his back and let the feeling sink in. “There are so many thoughts which are going through your mind. It feels like the mind is about to explode. After years and years of sacrifice and the hard work every athlete goes through, it feels like so much weight is just taken off your shoulders and automatically, that is one of the reasons you feel free lying down on the ground when that match point finishes. It’s an incredible magical feeling,” said Bopanna, the oldest man ever to win a Grand Slam, in a media interaction.

Mind you, this is not Bopanna’s first Grand Slam title. He, along with Canada’s Gabriela Dabrowski, won the mixed doubles crown at 2017 Roland Garros. However, unlike mixed doubles, which usually takes place at Majors, the Olympics, continental events or team competitions like the United Cup, men’s doubles is something for which players work hard throughout the year. There are ranking points at stake and the competition between world’s top pairs is at a very high level.

Bopanna did play with Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander, former World No. 1s and compatriots, but his proper shift to the doubles category happened with Pakistan’s Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi. The ‘Indo-Pak’ Express reached the 2010 US Open final, losing to Mike and Bob Bryan. For his next shot at a men’s doubles Grand Slam, he had to wait for 13 years until he again reached the final in New York in 2023 with Ebden. During this period, he even considered retirement on multiple occasions. Finally, after 19 different partners and 61 attempts, Bopanna finally got the men’s doubles Grand Slam title in the glorious Rod Laver Arena.

“When I was playing with Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi and decided to focus on doubles and make it a career, the men’s doubles Grand Slam was the target. Of course, along the way, came the 2017 French Open with Gabriela Dabrowski where I won mixed doubles but it was always a dream to win the men’s doubles title. Without a doubt it is the best moment of my tennis journey,” said Bopanna.

Bopanna decided to pair up with Ebden after the 2022 Paris Masters as their respective partners - Matwe Middelkoop and Max Purcell - had different plans for the next season. The Bopanna-Ebden team did not make the best start as they suffered first-round defeats in Adelaide and Australian Open in 2023 but since then, it has been one of the most consistent duos on the tour. They won titles in Doha and Rotterdam while also reaching the finals in Rotterdam, Madrid, Shanghai and Paris and qualified for the year-end ATP Tour Finals.

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“We really understood what our strengths are and trusted each other as partners. After playing with so many people for so many years, he (Ebden) has been the most consistent partner in terms of doing well in major events and big events,” said Bopanna about his 36-year-old partner.

Bopanna also mentioned that being consistent on the tour was much more important than winning one or two titles and not getting the results for the rest of the season. “I would take 10 finals and not win a title and then win the Grand Slam. Everybody wants to win but there is a process which goes through it and just being consistent and doing well week in, week out at these tournaments are extremely important,” he said.

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