CHENNAI: As Marcin Matkowski’s backhand volley floated long, only Florin Mergea realised he and Rohan Bopanna were new sheriffs of the Madrid Masters, on Sunday. The latter took five seconds longer to register what had happened, but the joy of winning a first-ever clay crown was soon writ on his face. The duo had just bagged their first title together — one of the highest order at the ATP level!
Their 6-2, 6-7 (5/7), [11-9] triumph over fifth seeds Matkowski and Nenad Zimonjic was just the cherry on a tasty cake — a week where they beat two other seeded teams via super tie-break. However, with Grand Slams featuring traditional sets, it remains to be seen if the Indian-Romanian combo can make a stand at the May 24-June 7 French Open. “With the new rules, a majority of doubles matches go to a super tie-break. Slams, in contrast, require both players to be more in sync as matches are longer and mentally tougher,” Bopanna told Express via email.
The 35-year-old knows only too well. After reaching the 2013 Wimbledon semifinals with Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France, the Bangalorean has failed to cross the third round at the following six Majors. Even partnering Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi a year later — the return of the IndoPak Express — did not yield desired results. This season featured another poor showing Down Under with Canada’s Daniel Nestor, an alliance that ended last month. “2014 was not one of my better years and the Australian Open this year was not great. But, if we maintain the present momentum, I don’t see why we won’t be in contention at the Slams.”
So, what does Mergea bring to the table? Doubles no longer features an all-out attacking style, allowing one man to patrol the baseline while the other hovers around the net. The World No 14 is five years younger than Bopanna — an asset that allows the latter to leave the hard running to his partner. “He is more agile on the court and boasts powerful groundstrokes. I’m comfortable at the net. With this in mind, we are able to complement each other perfectly,” the Indian added.
Bopanna’s main weapon is his powerful serve, but clay takes away the efficacy of that delivery. Even so, the surface has the ability to hone one’s mind and strokes in the nuances of attrition. “We don’t have the European kind of clay in India, so it’s only the six weeks a year that I get to play on it. I try to get as much time on the surface during tournaments as it’s the best way to prepare.”
The Madrid victory also meant that Bopanna leapfrogged Leander Paes to become the highest-ranked Indian man — World No 21. It’s a small step in his quest to win a maiden Major, but it goes a long way in building up confidence. “It’s an honour to pass a legend like Leander who has carried the Tricolour for so long. Both of us want to be back in the top 10 and that’s where we belong,” Bopanna opined.
Maybe peaking at the right time is just what the proverbial doctor ordered!