Rohan Bopanna stood calmly and confidently at the net as Yuki Bhambri served for the match in the Davis Cup World Group II tie between India and Morocco on Sunday. The serve went down the tee and the return came low at the net for Bopanna to manoeuvre. The 43-year-old crouched just a bit and played a deft volley to catch both Elliot Benchetrit and Younes Laaroussi off guard. Benchetrit tried to chase it down but all he could do was send the ball into the net and almost crashed into the umpire’s chair.
Bopanna and Bhambri took in the applause for putting India 2-1 to the good in the tie but the adulation was largely reserved for the former. The Coorg-native would hug each member of the Indian contingent. He would shake hands with the players and staff from Morocco.
He would go on to replicate Ben Shelton’s unique celebration with 23-year-old Digvijay Pratap Singh. He would follow it up by fetching an India T-shirt from his bag and spread it across the court. India’s non-playing captain Rohit Rajpal would then hand him the tri-colour to carry around the court with ‘Chak De!’ blaring in the background.
The swansong was complete.
Digvijay was two years old when Bopanna had made his Davis Cup debut against Australia in 2002. And here they were 21 years later. It speaks volumes of Bopanna’s longevity and also the reason why he’s stepping away from Davis Cup for good.
“This decision was me acknowledging that every time I get a week off, my body also recovers better. I’ve been here for two decades, and there are a lot of other players who are coming up and doing well, who can take that spot. That was one of the main reasons for me to call it a day. For my luck, it was also a tie which is going to be held in the country. So that came at the right time,” said Bopanna to NewsLogic in an exclusive conversation about his decision to stop playing Davis Cup.
Bopanna had expressed desire to play the tie in Bengaluru, where he was born, to ensure a capacity crowd with friends and family in tow. But the tie remained in Lucknow. ‘Bops’, though, was pleased to play the tie in Uttar Pradesh with expectations of future talents coming up from the non-traditional pocket.
“There was initially a conversation that we would love to have it in Bangalore at KSLTA (Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association). They were also happy to host it there. But Lucknow also wanted to host. When I met the Chief Minister (Yogi Adityanath) and understood what the vision for sports he has, it’s amazing to have the Davis Cup here in Lucknow. I think it’ll be good inspiration for all the kids to watch. And maybe there’s inspiration for these kids to maybe pick up tennis and move on to the big stage,” said Rohan.
Away from Davis Cup, Bopanna has had a superlative year. He reached the mixed doubles final at the Australian Open with Sania Mirza, the Wimbledon semi-finals and a fortnight ago the final of the US Open alongside Matthew Ebden. The run to the final at Flushing Meadows was Bopanna’s second in men’s doubles at the Grand Slam level. The last time he had reached the final of a major was alongside Pakistan’s Aisam ul-Haq Qureshi.
Bopanna, then 30 years old, had just committed to playing doubles fully. Now, 43, Bopanna travels with his wife and daughter – and plenty of wisdom.
“Two ends of the spectrum there. 2010 was the first year I had decided to take full time doubles. Qureshi and me decided at the end of 2009 that we will start playing doubles. That was a breakthrough year for me in the doubles – quarter-finals at Wimbledon and finals of US Open.”
“At this end of the spectrum, to do it at this juncture of my career, to have played this successfully at the top for such a long period of time and still be able to compete and play against the best in the world, I think really shows the constant mental strength which I’ve had throughout the years that it’s still been possible to play at your best no matter the age. The biggest thing is when you take away the limitations and change it into possibilities. That is where I think the number one gain is.”
“Now, the emotion was that the amount of hard work you’re putting in, the sacrifices you’re putting even 13 years later to be able to achieve and play at the highest level is to be truly proud and a great feeling. I’m extremely happy about investing in myself. At the end of the day, travelling non stop, paying for your flights, paying for your coaches, paying for your physios and then to get such results like this has been phenomenal,” Bopanna elaborated.
Multiple ‘oldest’ records have followed for Bopanna this year. He became the oldest Indian Wells champion in March. In New York, he became the oldest player to reach a Grand Slam final in the Open Era.
“The year has been phenomenal. It’s been extremely kind and I’m really thankful to all the people who have been involved in helping me get back to the top-10 in the rankings, win a Master Series, get to the Grand Slam finals – making the mixed doubles finals with Sania in January and now the men’s doubles finals, and also semi-finals at Wimbledon. There’s still a lot more to be played. The goal is to qualify for Turin (ATP Finals) and last time that happened was 2015. Looking forward to playing with the top-eight teams in the world. So yeah very, very proud with it,” he signed off.