Rohan Bopanna is a well-known coffee connoisseur. Locked down at his family coffee estate in Coorg, the tennis ace is working on a new blend for his own line of the beverage. Apart from a few fitness drills and daily one-hour chat session with few fellow players, tennis takes up the least of his time.
It’s not without reason, though. The doubles specialist, India’s highest-ranked player at world No. 37, says he doesn’t really know what to train for. He believes it is possible that there is no further tennis on the professional tour this year, the truly global nature of the sport a disadvantage in these COVID-19 pandemic times. “The main worry in tennis is that it’s not like a lot of other sports where it is played in only one country or a few countries,” Bopanna said over phone from Coorg on Saturday. “Thus, the travel, flights, restrictions, everything comes into the picture. Each country has and will have different quarantine rules. All these things have to be taken into consideration. So looking at it that way, it could be possible that the 2020 season is entirely written off.”
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Even though tennis hopes to kickstart some time later this year, murmurs of this season being wiped away have only grown. Why, even Rafael Nadal termed the current season ‘practically lost’. Bopanna concurs, even though he reveals that the tournament director of ATP Shanghai Masters (scheduled in October), with whom he had a chat recently, presented a positive picture saying “95% of things are open there”.
“But if someone has to fly to or from somewhere, and has to be quarantined for 14 days, then it makes it much harder for us as well as organisers. Players coming from different countries is a different ball game altogether. And there are just too many ifs and buts right now,” Bopanna, who began the season by winning the ATP Qatar Open partnering Wesley Koolhof in January, said.
If the packed international tennis calendar does indeed take its time to kick off again, the 40-year-old has suggested the All India Tennis Association (AITA) to be proactive in using the opportunity to restart the domestic circuit once the situation improves within the country. It will not only ease the financial burden on the lower ranked players to an extent, but also provide the match-starved top players—rarely seen on the domestic swing—some much-needed game time to get back in the groove.
“It’s a great opportunity for our federation to revive our domestic circuit and to have tournaments nationally or in states. Not just younger players, even the top players will play in it because we need some matches under our belt as well. We all have to push each other now,” Bopanna said.
The 2017 French Open mixed doubles champion felt it was great to see the entire tennis community joining hands to financially support the lower ranked players. The sport’s various governing bodies have united to raise in excess of $6 million towards the Player Relief Programme, while the ‘Big Three’, led by world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, have called out the top 100 singles and top 20 doubles players in the world to chip in for the lower ranked ones.
“Having become unemployed overnight, it’s not easy,” Bopanna said. “It’s a wonderful thing to see everybody coming together in this need of the hour. And I don’t think they are forcing anyone to help; it’s up to each individual, which is great.
“In a way, there isn’t a lot of expense right now because you’re at home. But they’ll need the help when they come back to start playing again. Suddenly, if you’re left wondering how I am going to travel internationally for the next one year, it’s very tough for anybody. And that goes even for me,” he added.
Apart from bonding with his 11-month old daughter Tridha whose sleep cycle ensures Bopanna’s remains in sync that on tour—no late nights or late mornings, that is—the 2018 Asian Games gold medallist is also using this time to turn mentor to his academy students as well as young Indian pros. Daily at 5pm, Bopanna and around 30 other players including the likes of Sania Mirza and Ramkumar Ramanathan log on to a Zoom call.
“All of us do a core workout session. Somebody also comes up with their exercises and we follow it. It’s about keeping the younger guys motivated. For them, it’s definitely tougher; they’re thinking that they’re going to lose out (with no tennis).
“But I keep telling them this: ‘Tennis is not a 100m race, it’s a marathon’. It takes a long process of time. So I tell them, even in my videos to my academy boys, that even if you lose these few months, it doesn’t mean your tennis is gone. And everybody is on the same boat; it’s not like somebody else is playing and you’re missing out. So that way I hope I can inspire a little bit, it’s the least I could to do in such times,” Bopanna said.
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