Rohan Bopanna is 40 and has spent a large part of those four decades on a tennis court. Yet, on Tuesday, when he stepped on court for a training session for the first time in almost three months, he felt like a child.
“I felt like I was a kid again. It was so amazing to be back on court,” the doubles specialist said over phone from Bengaluru on Wednesday.
India’s top-ranked doubles player resumed outdoor training on the clay courts of his Rohan Bopanna Tennis Academy in suburban Yelahanka, the first elite tennis player to hit the court in the country after over two months of a nationwide lockdown owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Karnataka government had on May 20 eased several restrictions in Bengaluru, including the use of tennis courts, only for rain to frustrate Bopanna for many days.
“I had a hit for around one-and-a-half hours,” he said. “I’m taking it very slow right now. I didn’t even serve; just got a feel of hitting some shots again, feel the motion of forehands and backhands; not go for too many sprints. I am in no hurry. I want to enjoy just being back on court.”
Though the coronavirus situation in Bengaluru is not severe, Bopanna is taking no chances, be it his own training or that of his academy kids, whose sessions have also started.
Neither Bopanna nor the kids touch the tennis ball while training on court; only the academy coaches are allowed to do that. “The only thing I touched while training was my racquet. The coaches feed us the balls and they pick it up. We’re strict about that. Besides, we wear masks till entering the court and check everyone’s temperature before and after a session, including that of the coaches,” said Bopanna, who last week announced a scholarship programme for 60 kids across age groups.
Bopanna last played on March 7, partnering Leander Paes to earn India’s solitary win in the lost Davis Cup tie against Croatia in Zagreb. The world No. 37 had spent the lockdown at his family’s coffee estate in Coorg, where only a few hours of fitness training was possible.
“All the wonderful food I ate in Coorg, I can feel it slowly coming out now,” Bopanna joked. “I wasn’t rusty in my hitting, but very much in terms of my movement on the court. After all these days of not hitting, when you have a 10-15 ball rally, you start breathing heavier. So suddenly, when I’m hitting forehands and backhands continuously, it definitely feels different. Tennis fitness and normal fitness are poles apart.”
Bopanna plans to train three-four days a week. He feels two-three weeks of intense training will get him back to being tennis fit. He won’t push himself as there is no clarity on when the professional tour – suspended since March – will get going again.
“It’s tougher to practice when you don’t have a plan in terms of tournaments. Hopefully we’ll have clarity about the tour in a couple of weeks or so. It all depends on the US swing and what ATP decides on that. Till then I’ll take it slow, not try to do too many things and ease back into tennis,” he added.
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