'Three years ago, I was close to quitting but...': Rohan Bopanna's journey of triumph and transformation
Three years ago, amidst a period of self-doubt and adversity, Rohan Bopanna found himself on the brink of relinquishing the sport he had dedicated his life to. Yet, through introspection and self-expression, he discovered a newfound resolve to confront his challenges head-on.
43-year-old Rohan Bopanna, the towering figure of Indian tennis, has recently etched his name in the annals of sporting history by becoming the oldest man to clinch a Grand Slam title in men's doubles at the Australian Open 2024 on Saturday. However, the World doubles No.1 and newly awarded Padma Shri's journey to this momentous achievement has been one marked by perseverance, introspection, and unwavering determination.
In an interview with Times of India, Bopanna reflected on the pivotal moments and personal revelations that have defined his remarkable resurgence in the tennis arena. Three years ago, amidst a period of self-doubt and adversity, Bopanna found himself on the brink of relinquishing the sport he had dedicated his life to. Yet, through introspection and self-expression, he discovered a newfound resolve to confront his challenges head-on.
Recalling a poignant evening in Estoril, Bopanna vividly recounts the emotional turmoil that nearly led him to walk away from tennis. Alone with his thoughts, he embarked on a soul-searching journey, confronting his fears and uncertainties with raw honesty. It was a pivotal moment of reckoning, a cathartic release that ultimately paved the way for his resurgence on the court.
"That evening was difficult, it was emotional. I walked all over the town and down that beautiful Riviera. I was at a place in my head where I was very close to stopping that passion I had pursued all my life because I hadn’t won a match in four months. I was alone. No coach, no physio, no anyone. I started talking to myself. I was saying maybe this is the end of my tennis career. Slowly I started saying it all out loud. The truth was coming out, the disappointment…the difficulty. I had kept it all inside of me, never spoken to anyone about it. Speaking about it, even to myself made a difference," he told TOI.
Bopanna further said, "Later that week, I went to Madrid for the next tournament and ended up winning my first match of the year, after seven straight losses. After that I told myself I may be at the end of the road, but as long as the season (2021) lasts, I have to enjoy myself and not really worry about results. I was playing with Denis Shapovalov in Madrid, he’s a dear, dear friend of mine. I told myself, let’s just go out there and have fun, just two friends, who hit the ball real big. By the end of 2021, I was still ranked in the 40s, and that gave me hope for 2022. Then I made the semis at Roland Garros (2022) with Matwe Middelkoop and just like that the doubts faded away."
The past 24 months have been a testament to Bopanna's unwavering resolve and indomitable spirit. Despite the setbacks and disappointments, he emerged stronger and more resilient, armed with a newfound sense of purpose and perspective. His journey from the brink of retirement to the summit of tennis glory is a testament to the power of perseverance and the resilience of the human spirit.
"Never ever doubt yourself or limit yourself. That was the change that happened inside me, it happened organically. I’m happy with the way I’m competing and playing. That’s the attitude, the joy that I take with me to the tennis court every day. Happiness is a choice," he said.
Addressing the challenges of age and physical limitations, Bopanna emphasizes the importance of listening to one's body and embracing a tailored approach to training and recovery. With a keen awareness of his physical limitations, he has adopted a holistic approach to fitness, incorporating yoga and specialized strength training to optimize his performance on the court.
"I’m mindful of what I can and cannot do because of my age in terms of training, and how much I can push myself physically. I listen to my body. I understand myself better. All the young players are pushing themselves hard in the gym, that’s not for me. Those days are gone. My training is very different, and recovery is super important. I have had ice baths every single day I’ve been here in Australia," he noted.
He further stated, "I told my physio Rebecca Van Orshaegen what I needed because I have no cartilage in my knees. It has completely worn out. I needed to strengthen my quads, hamstrings and glutes because maybe then I won’t have pain at least while playing matches. If I’m not 100% fit at practice, that’s fine. I want to feel 100% during matches. Also, yoga not only strengthened my body, but also made me calmer and focus better on the tennis court. I don’t feel rushed. When I take up a challenge, I try to persevere."
For Bopanna, tennis is more than just a sport; it's a passion, a calling, a way of life. His unwavering commitment to his craft, coupled with an insatiable thirst for excellence, has propelled him to the pinnacle of his profession. Yet, amidst the glitz and glamour of professional tennis, Bopanna remains grounded in his values and convictions, guided by a sense of purpose and determination.
"I didn’t really have a reason to stop. As long as I wasn’t a journeyman, and I was still competing and winning titles there was no reason to stop. In 2019, Supriya and I had our daughter and I told myself if Tridha could watch me play live that would be great! Now she’s watching me play! I didn’t have a timeline and I wasn’t playing by the clock. Everything is a personal goal; it is not anyone else’s goal. Lots of people want you to do lots of things, but at the end of the day, it’s up to you. It’s your road, your choice, your sweat," he added.
As he reflects on his illustrious career and the road ahead, Bopanna's words resonate with wisdom and humility. For him, success is not merely defined by accolades and achievements but by the journey itself—the triumphs, the setbacks, and the lessons learned along the way. As he continues to defy the odds and rewrite the narrative of Indian tennis, Rohan Bopanna stands as a beacon of hope and inspiration for aspiring athletes around the world.
In the end, his story is a testament to the enduring power of the human spirit—to persevere, to overcome, and to emerge victorious against all odds. As Rohan Bopanna continues to inspire a generation of athletes with his remarkable journey, his legacy will endure as a testament to the boundless possibilities of the human potential.