By Ronnie Ruff
FRESH from ending a 14-year wait for his maiden Grand Slam title, Rohan Bopanna is eyeing up more major success at Wimbledon next week.
The Indian ace fulfilled a lifetime ambition when he won the mixed doubles title with Gabriela Dabrwoski at the French Open this month and hopes the momentum will continue into SW19.
“Never give up on your dreams. That is something which stands out (from this win),” the 37-year-old said on the eve of the event.
“Age is only a number. You can’t set a timeline (for achievements). As long as you believe in yourself and keep working hard, nothing can stop you.
“I worked towards my goal every single day. I am grateful that my team also put in the effort. Although tennis is an individual sport, everyone has contributed.
“Huge congratulations to Gabriela for becoming the first Canadian woman to win a Grand Slam. It helps to share a sense of camaraderie with your partner. I will partner her at Wimbledon also.”
With that triumph in Paris, Bopanna became only the fourth Indian in history – after Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza – to win a slam.
The 16-time ATP tour winner’s previous best finish at Wimbledon has been two semi-final finishes in the men’s doubles (2013 and 2015). In the mixed event, Bopanna has only reached the last eight once, and that was four years ago.
Bopanna, for so long a national stalwart on the Davis Cup stage, reckons a change in self-belief is one of the main reason for him pl-aying “the best tennis of his career”.
He explained: “At the start of the year, Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan and I won the Chennai Open. Th-en, Marcin (Matkowski) and I reached the Dubai Open final. In April, Pablo Cuevas and I took the Monte Carlo Masters title. So I’ve played with three different players this year.
“I’ve had to adapt to their styles and figure out a way to use our combined strengths to get good results. This is the main reason why I feel that I’m now playing the best tennis of my career. Every time I step on to the court, I feel like I can win.
“This level of confidence is something new. I have never given up on anything – this is my strength. I constantly keep doing the right things, irrespective of the result. When I was a junior, I lost a lot of tournaments in the early rounds. I wasn’t discouraged, I just continued to work hard.
“I carried this same attitude into my professional career. I don’t have any regrets about not winning a Grand Slam title for the first 14 years of my career. The things I’ve learnt has made me a better player.
“I played Queens with Ivan Dodig, as Pablo was not available. Pablo and I will team up for Eastbourne and Wimbledon. Our goal is to try and qualify for the year-end London Masters.”
Bopanna and Croatian team mate Dodig reached the last four of the Aegon Championships last weekend, losing to French duo Julien Benneteau and Edouard Roger-Vasseli 4-6, 5-7.
As well as focusing on his own goals, Bopanna is also doing his bit to help the next generation of talent come through an often maligned tennis system in India.
“To get singles champions, we need to have a system in place at the grassroots level. We have very limited support from the Federation (AITA) or corporates. We need that system to compete with European standards. We still have a long way to go,” he said.
“I am also bringing a couple of coaches (Britain’s Aubrey Barrett and Serbia’s Dragan Bukumirovic) to my academy in Bangalore from outside. They will be here for a year and help these kids. I tell the players if they go, go for a year not for a month or so.
“In a month it does not really help improve much. That’s why I am bringing these coaches; let’s hope the kids make good use of this opportunity.”