Smashing it to the top: Rohan Bopanna

Meet Rohan Bopanna, India’s leading doubles tennis player, who has just returned to Bengaluru after winning his maiden Grand Slam title at Roland Garros, Paris

By Namita Gupta

Photos by Faheem Hussain

Wardrobe courtesy: ZEVEN

Venue courtesy: Grand Mercure Hotel, Bengaluru

He’s on cloud nine and has all the reasons to be. Bengaluru boy Rohan Bopanna won his first Grand Slam title acing the mixed doubles final of the French Open in June. Looking dapper in sportswear from Zeven of which he is the brand ambassador, the 37-year old towers over others as he poses for RITZ magazine as part of an exclusive interview about his sport, his love life and more.

Master stroke

Sharing his experience on winning the title, Rohan states, “I’ve been enjoying playing on the clay court surface and I’ve adapted my game style differently now in the last couple of years. A lot of the credit goes to the fact that even after so many years of playing, I was flexible enough to change and adapt to something new. When I was in Monte Carlo this year, I was with Pablo Cuevas and we won a big tournament. I kept practicing with Pablo everyday and my game improved a lot. We don’t have that kind of surface in India, so I was feeling positive every time I practiced and when I stepped onto the court for the finals. It was the third tournament for Canada’s Gabriela Dabrowski and me as we played in the US Open and in the Australian Open tournament before that, which gave us an edge over others on how to work through our strengths.”

The modest sportstar feels he started playing tennis a tad late by today’s standards. “I started playing at the age of 11, which is pretty late. As a junior I didn’t play that many tournaments. When I was 14, I was told by the coaches that I was still very raw as I had not played many tournaments. Only when I was 21, I won a tournament at the national level and that instilled confidence in me that I could play tournaments at a higher level. I always believed in my game, irrespective of whether I was losing or winning and at every step I could improve my performance. My family and friends always encouraged me. A lot of people have made sacrifices for me along the way. My parents were a great source of strength and support. My dad sometimes tells me if he had known how much it would have cost he wouldn’t have probably gone ahead with my coaching! Representing your own country is a wonderful feeling. As an athlete winning a Grand Slam would be anyone’s dream come true and to have achieved that was a proud feeling,” states Rohan who also loves cricket, badminton and golf. Although he won quite a few big tournaments, he confesses that it was winning the smaller tournaments that helped him grow and learn as a player.

Court to courtship

The Kodagu boy fell in love with Supriya Annaiah and he confesses it was love at first sight. “I was introduced to Supriya in 2010 by a cousin of mine who knew her, when she had just walked into a restaurant I was dining in, by chance. We got married in 2012. She is a wonderful person. It was tough for her as she came onto the circuit not knowing anything about tennis and had to adapt to my schedules and routines. Everyone thinks it’s a glamorous life, since we’re always travelling the world for tournaments. But when we travel we hardly get to go out and see the city like a tourist. During the day, I’m at the tennis court and we might just go out for a meal at night and come back early and catch up on some sleep to play the next day. But Supriya has understood the journey well and what I actually go through and is a significant part of it. She is a psychologist and has now started her own practice. She comes with me to a lot of countries and now that she has her own practice, it’s more flexible for her to plan her travels to coordinate with mine. Every time I’m playing a big series, she comes along. She balances her work and travels with me whenever she can, so that way we get to spend some time together. We also liked our time spent together in Koh Samui. We went to Monaco where I was playing at the Monte Carlo Masters, and recently we were in Budapest where we spent three days together after I had finished my tournaments. In 2013, unfortunately I lost early in Paris, but since she was there with me we could take our time to explore. We went across Paris and also Niagara Falls later. We have done many such trips,” shares Rohan.

Love makes the world go round

“I’ve got to see more of the world now that she’s with me than when I was travelling by myself. I also love adventure travel. I’ve done bungee jumping in Macau which is the tallest one in the world. I’m a big adrenaline junkie and next on my bucket list is sky diving. The only thing is that our schedules are tight and it’s tough to incorporate travelling for pleasure. Both of us like to try new things. And it’s great now that she’s studied so much to become a psychologist and now she can have her own career as well as be with me. We try to balance around each other’s schedules so that we don’t spend too much time apart,” says Rohan. About his other passions, he adds, “I love watching Bollywood movies and hope to catch up on a lot of Bollywood movies when I return from this Wimbledon season. I watch every movie that releases. I’m also a big foodie and like to try out new cuisines, my favourite being Japanese.”

We prod further and nudge him whether his psychologist wife talks to him on how to deal with the stress levels this sport might bring at times and he states, “She’s definitely someone who understands me really well. Unknowingly sometimes maybe she would have helped whenever we discussed issues, but it’s never happened formally. She has the hidden talent of connecting to people. We’re also good friends with Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza and we play and hang out together whenever we can. We also spend time with my friends from Coorg who have grown up with me. We also went to the Beyonce concert with Lara Dutta and Mahesh, when we were there for the mixed doubles Wimbledon.”

Serve to win

Spilling the beans on his daily schedule, Rohan reveals, “I try to begin my morning with yoga or meditation and after a healthy breakfast I start off with my practice that goes into a couple of hours. I go to the gym after that and then try to go for another hour of practice. The whole day goes away in playing tennis. The tennis court is like my office. Whenever a friend asks me how it is to be a tennis player, I tell them it’s exactly like dressing up and going to an office and meeting people and doing your work. The only difference is that I attend office in my tennis shorts and t shirts.”

When he’s not honing his skills on the court, travelling for tournaments or exploring a bit of the world with his better half, Rohan takes out time to train young aspiring players at The Rohan Bopanna Tennis Academy (RBTA) bringing a refreshing new dimension to tennis coaching in India. Ask Rohan how often he goes to the academy and he states, “I’m not able to go very often, but if I’m in town I go there as much as I can. I have a huge passion for giving back to the sport and training kids with whatever experience and exposure this sport has taught me. Every time I see them train with our coaches, it brings a smile on my face. Right now, between my travelling and matches, I’m not able to diversify. But what’s worked for me is perseverance and that is what every budding tennis player needs. Keep training hard, eat right, be disciplined, believe in yourself and never stop following your dreams.”

About his future plans, Rohan who won the men’s doubles title at the 2008 Countrywide Classic in Los Angeles, many ATP titles and other tournaments, awards and accolades adds, “I’m leaving to London in a few days as the big grass court season is starting and before Wimbledon we have a couple of matches, so I’ll be playing that. After that I will be leaving for the US Open and by the end of the year I hope to play at the London Masters and finish the year strong.” Kudos to India’s latest Grand Slam champ!