Game, Set, Match: Rohan Bopanna Dominates On The Tennis Court

After a historic win at the 2024 Australian Open, Rohan Bopanna has left the world in awe.  

By Hannah Cardozo 

Age is merely a number for tennis pro Rohan Bopanna, who has achieved the impressive feat of reaching World Rank No.1 at almost 44. Bopanna made history by becoming the oldest man to win a Grand Slam title when he and his men’s doubles partner, Matthew Ebden, emerged victorious at the Australian Open on January 27, 2024. It took him 61 attempts and 19 different partners before he finally secured his first men’s doubles Grand Slam title.

Since partnering with Ebden at the beginning of last year, he has achieved several notable milestones. These include becoming the oldest Masters Champion, the oldest finalist at a Grand Slam, and the oldest player to win a match at the ATP Finals. What is even more remarkable is his success in winning matches after 35, an age when many players consider retiring. 

So, what sets Rohan Bopanna apart from the majority? According to his partner Matthew Ebden, “He’s young at heart, he’s a champion, he’s a warrior.” 

Humble Beginnings

Born in Bengaluru on March 4, 1980, Rohan Bopanna spent his formative years at his family’s coffee plantation in the hill town of Coorg. He was quite an explorer with a passion for sports; he dabbled in hockey and football before discovering tennis at the age of 11. Bopanna made the bold decision to pursue tennis as a full-time career at the age of 19, which is later than most. It seems like Bopanna has been defying age limits from the start! 

Despite being one of the most accomplished Indian tennis players in the history of the sport, Rohan Bopanna faced challenges at the beginning of his senior career. The initial years were especially difficult, as he struggled to advance past the qualifying rounds in singles and only reached the quarter-finals in doubles at various tournaments.

In 2003, Bopanna made the transition to professional tennis and achieved a significant milestone in 2008 by securing his first ATP title. He emerged victorious at the Los Angeles Open alongside his partner, Eric Butorac.

Ascend To Success

Bopanna has established himself as a prominent figure in doubles tennis. Along the way, he has achieved remarkable success, including winning a Grand Slam mixed doubles title, 24 ATP wins, and bringing home a gold medal from the 2023 Asian Games.

One of the highlights of Bopanna’s career was the formation of the legendary IndoPak Express duo with Pakistani player Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi. Their esprit de corps and efforts to promote India-Pakistan friendship both on and off the court, were highly acclaimed in the tennis world. Together, they won five titles including Bopanna’s first ATP Master title at the Paris Masters in 2011.

In 2006, he made his Grand Slam debut and after a decade, he won his first tennis major at the 2017 French Open. Bopanna secured the mixed doubles title alongside his Canadian partner, Gabriela Dabrowski. This victory places him in an exclusive group of only four Indians, including Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi, and Sania Mirza, who have claimed a Grand Slam title.

He continues to push the boundaries of what is possible in the sport, as evidenced by his status as the oldest finalist in both Masters 1000 and Grand Slam men’s doubles events. His contributions to the Davis Cup and Olympics have further solidified his reputation as a doubles specialist. 

Navigating Uncertainty

Earlier this year, Bopanna credited his wife, Supriya Annaiah, for the support and motivation it took him to get to this point. In an interview with ESPN he said, “My wife said it beautifully one day, ‘When you change limitations to opportunities, everything changes’. We are always told at 25 this has to happen, by 30 this has to happen, at 40 this will happen. It’s a thing which is told to us constantly, whether it is sport or life, whether it is marriage, having kids, whatever it may be. But when you change that into opportunities, then the limitations go away.”

Despite his recent victories, Bopanna experienced a period of doubt. During the trophy presentation at Rod Arena, while thanking his family, he disclosed that he had contemplated quitting the sport a couple of years ago. 

“My in-laws are here. The last time they came I won my mixed doubles Grand Slam (French Open 2017). I don’t know why they don’t come more often. My beautiful wife, Supriya, and my daughter, Tridha. Thank you for all the support, and all the love. I know a couple of years ago, I sent her a video message and said, ‘I’m gonna call it a day’. Because I wasn’t winning matches at all. I went five months without winning a match. I thought that was gonna be the end of my journey. Perseverance inside me just kept me going. I changed so many things and found a wonderful partner.”

The Power Of Yoga 

As yoga becomes popular worldwide, the field of tennis is no exception. Bopanna credits yoga for enhancing his tennis skills in recent years, a practice he began during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Despite yoga being a prevalent practice in India, he had never given it a chance, assuming he wouldn’t enjoy it. However, with a local studio near his home, he decided to try Iyengar yoga.

After revealing that he had almost no cartilage in his knees, Bopanna shared, “That (yoga) actually tremendously made a huge, huge difference… yoga in a way not only strengthens my legs, my body, but also I think made me calmer on the tennis court.” 

The Perfect Pairing

A doubles match cannot be great without good chemistry, and Bopanna found that with Australian Player Matthew Ebden. He credits his 2023 circuit to this great partnership.

From being calm on the court to giving each other valuable feedback, they struck a great balance. After 19 partners, Bopanna and Ebden’s consistency throughout the year helped them build a strong bond of trust.

He has also had successful pairings with Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza in the past.

Endeavours Beyond The Court

With an entrepreneurial spirit, Rohan Bopanna manages a successful tennis academy and founded his coffee brand called The Flying Squirrel in 2012. Going back to his roots, the company’s goal is to make coffee from Coorg farms more accessible to the public. He created the Rohan Bopanna Master Blend in partnership with Maverick & Farmer. 

He is also an investor in ventures such as the sports tech platform Game Theory and Good Flippin’ Burgers. In addition to his business ventures, Rohan Bopanna is actively involved in philanthropy. He donates a portion of the proceeds from his Stop War Start Tennis merchandise to the GoSports Foundation, a non-profit organisation that supports young athletes.

Furthermore, in his hometown of Coorg, Bopanna is a strong advocate for an Opportunity School that provides education for physically handicapped children. He also supports the Coorg Institute of Dental Sciences, which offers affordable dental care and hosts free health and awareness camps. Bopanna’s dedication to giving back to his community and supporting important causes is truly admirable.

What’s Next?

While for most this might seem like the summit of his career, Rohan Bopanna is far from finished. He is determined to make history by adding the Wimbledon doubles title to his list of achievements.

He told BBC, “Growing up in India, Wimbledon was the only Grand Slam shown on TV… I’d love to get back there, get myself in a great position, and hopefully Matt and I can do Wimbledon together.”

Rising Above

Bopanna aims to be an inspiration on and off the court. He said, “I don’t think just in tennis. People all over the world, being 40 and above, I think it’s just going to inspire them in a different way,” he said.

Rohan Bopanna’s story is a reminder that age is no barrier to success and that with hard work and determination, anything is possible. 

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