Rohan Bopanna recollects life journey in session with coaches

Bopanna recalled how he was not selected for Britannia Tennis Amritraj (BAT) scheme in Chennai and could not win a scholarship for the Batra Centre run by coach Nandan Bal in Pune.

As a junior, Rohan Bopanna did not turn many heads with his game, but worked quietly on the right things, unmindful of all the defeats.   -  FILE PHOTO/AP

Behind every journey to the top, there is a fascinating story.

Former World No. 3 doubles star, French Open mixed doubles champion and Asian Games gold medallist Rohan Bopanna gave an insight to his world, in conversation with Sureshkumar Sonachalam, during the ongoing webinar presented by the All India Tennis Association (AITA) in collaboration with the Sports Authority of India (SAI).

In a stunning revelation in front of hundreds of coaches, the 40-year-old Bopanna recalled how he was not selected for Britannia Tennis Amritraj (BAT) scheme in Chennai and could not win a scholarship for the Batra Centre run by coach Nandan Bal in Pune.

READ: Indian tennis players steal the show in AITA coaches workshop

As a junior, Bopanna did not turn many heads with his game, but worked quietly on the right things, unmindful of all the defeats.

Having started playing tennis when he was 11, and after having reached a career-best rank of 601 among the juniors, Bopanna did well to shine on the professional tour as a late bloomer. He reached a best singles rank of 213. He played some vibrant matches against some of the best players around the world both in Davis Cup and on the Tour.

“I didn’t have tennis specific fitness in those days. There was no video or Whatsapp call, the way we have now,” said Bopanna.

Figuring out the importance of a physical trainer, Bopanna stepped up his game to realise his potential as a doubles player. “Travelling with a physio has prolonged my career. I was in Stuttgart last year, practising with Denis Shapovalov, against Alex de Minaur and his partner. Wondered what was I doing with guys half my age. Denis Shapovalov moves on court so well, that I may break my ankle, if I tried the same,” said Bopanna.

“CGK Bhupathi made me serve 200 to 300 balls every single day. Today, with my second serve, I can hit any spot on the court. Every day, I trained for that. I love to keep targets. Keep narrowing the targets. I ask myself, with 10 balls how many targets can I hit. That developed my serve.” — Rohan Bopanna

Having Cheston Pinto, the strength and conditioning expert at his academy, Bopanna said that Niki Poonacha who had won the national men’s title last year was getting better.

“Never compare our athletes with Nadal or Federer. We are different, but we can make champions from India. We need to focus on the tennis specific movement at an early age,” said Bopanna.

Looking back, Bopanna fondly recollected his five-year training stint in Pune, and how his dad had given him a bicycle to commute for tennis, about 15 kilometres every day.

“My mom and dad said yes or no together. They had clarity. After four years, I convinced my dad to give me a motorcycle,” said Bopanna.

Grateful to Mahesh Bhupathi’s dad, CGK Bhupathi, for bolstering his game later in Bengaluru, Bopanna remembered how the confidence in his new found game had helped him beat Nitten Kirrtane in the final for his first big title at the age of 21.

“Then, I got into the Davis Cup team in 2002, and kept getting better. In the juniors, you just focus on fundamentals, strength and movement. I had the game style to compete at the highest level, but was half step slowm” Bopanna admitted.

From pushing the ball to swinging at it freely, and developing a kick serve, Bopanna improved his game, for dramatic change of fortunes.

“CGK Bhupathi made me serve 200 to 300 balls every single day. Today, with my second serve, I can hit any spot on the court. Every day, I trained for that. I love to keep targets. Keep narrowing the targets. I ask myself, with 10 balls how many targets can I hit. That developed my serve,” revealed Bopanna.

After the Davis Cup tie in 2008, when he beat Kei Nishikori 6-3 in the fifth set in the first rubber, Bopanna attracted the attention of coach Bob Brett who was in charge of the Japanese team.

READ: The origin of tennis: History, mystery and myths

“He told someone that he would help me. I went to Monte Carlo to work with him. He worked on me, and brought my serve toss closer to my body,” said Bopanna, touching on the secret of his boom boom serve.

“Parents, trust the coaches. Don’t keep shifting. You don’t shift school so often. Give a coach a minimum of six months,” Bopanna pleaded.

He also said that coaches should not hang on to a player, once they have made their contribution in helping the player grow.

“Don’t hold on to the kid. Look at what is better for the kid. You learn something from each person. All of us have to work together and take the player forward. I don’t take the same teacher for all the classes in school and to college,” Bopanna explained.

Bopanna who won the last Davis Cup doubles rubber with Leander Paes against Croatia, in Zagreb in March, acknowledged the support of the parents as “the biggest help”, but asked the parents not to coach the kids from the stands, or put fear in their minds with negative attitude.

“The knowledge we have in India is very high. Trust our coaches. All of us have to come together to make champions,” said Bopanna.

He emphasised the importance of tournaments at all levels to help players develop and pointed at the healthy structure in cricket in the country as a classic example for the best way forward for tennis.

“We have very talented and wonderful kids,” said Bopanna, stressing the importance of healthy guidance for them.

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