Along with Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza, Rohan Bopanna has ensured India’s representation at the Slams for most part of the 21st century.
The six-foot-four from Coorg, however, has had to wait for glory at the pinnacle of sport when compared to his three compatriots. While Paes, Bhupathi and Mirza had already collected multiple Majors, Bopanna got his hands on a Slam trophy only in 2017 when he and Canada’s Gabriela Dabrowski won the mixed doubles title at Roland Garros.
It wasn’t as if Bopanna was a stranger to a Majors final. In fact, he and Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi had reached the summit clash at the US Open in 2010 as the last seeded pair. Popularly known as the “Indo-Pak Express,” the pair was up against top seeds and arguably the greatest doubles team of all time - Mike and Bob Bryan. Bopanna and Qureshi, the two 30-year-olds, stretched the twins to tiebreaks in both sets before going down 6-7(5), 6-7(4).
Bopanna has teamed up with multiple partners since, including compatriots Bhupathi and Divij Sharan, and enjoyed success in men’s doubles on the ATP Tour (24 titles). But since that 2010 US Open, he could only get as far as the semifinals on five occasions when it came to Slams.
Destiny may have played a part but 13 years after that loss to the Bryan Brothers, it is New York where Bopanna is back in a men’s doubles Grand Slam final. Bopanna and his Australian partner Matthew Ebden, seeded sixth, defeated the French pair of Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert, the 2015 champions, 7-6(3), 6-2 in the semifinals on Thursday.
“Super happy for him. Really unbelievable achievement. What he has done, making the finals again after 13 years is inspirational and motivating for all the players out there and for me as well. Wishing him all the very best. I hope he can get one more (win),” Qureshi told Sportstar before his match at a Challenger event in Istanbul.
“He has made history already but can make it even bigger and better after winning it (title),” he added.
The history Qureshi refers to is the record Bopanna set when he hit the overhead smash on match point at the Louis Armstrong Stadium. At 43 years and six months, the Indian is the oldest men’s finalist at a Slam in the Open era. The previous record was held by Canada’s Daniel Nestor who made it to the 2016 Australian Open final with Czech Republic’s Radek Stepanek at the age of 43 years 4 months.
Remembering the 2010 US Open final, Qureshi, who won five Tour-level titles with Bopanna (who he refers to as Bops) and even qualified for the 2011 ATP Finals, said, “It was my first Grand Slam final and for Bops as well. Unbelievable experience, something I can never forget in my life and I think that experience is definitely going to help Bops in the finals here also. I’m sure he got to learn a lot from that. He is playing with a player (Ebden) who has already won a Slam (2022 Wimbledon with Max Purcell). They have a really good opportunity to win this one.”
Bopanna and Ebden, 35, who decided to team up at the end of last year, have clinched titles in Doha and Indian Wells this season while also reaching the finals in Rotterdam and Madrid as well as the Wimbledon semifinals. The pair is third in the race for the ATP Finals and is likely to qualify.
However, that is for later. On Friday, the duo takes on the British-American duo and two-time defending champions Joe Salisbury and Rajeev Ram in the final at the Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Bopanna has finally managed to reach the men’s doubles summit clash at a Major in his 50th attempt since that defeat in 2010. This time the stars might align for him.
As Ashe, the only black man to win the singles titles at US Open, Wimbledon and Australian Open, once said, “Every time you win, it diminishes the fear a little bit. You never really cancel the fear of losing; you keep challenging it.”
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