CHENNAI: Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza will be doubles partners at the Australian Open next week. The Indian duo, who haven't played with each other since finishing fourth at the Rio Olympics, decided to do so after Rajeev Ram, who was initially going to be Sania's partner, pulled out of the event.
"I will be playing with Sania at the Australian Open," Bopanna told this daily from Bengaluru on Saturday. "She was initially teamed up with Rajeev but he had pulled out. I am obviously excited to be partnering with her, partners from the same countries are a rarity. I am looking forward to it." They had taken the decision three days ago. In the men's section, the 39-year-old will be playing with Japan's Yasutaka Uchiyama. He will play with his regular partner, Denis Shapavalov, from February.
The Australian Open is an important tournament for the Indian in his quest to qualify for the Olympics. If he does well in Melbourne, where he is defending zero points, it could provide the necessary early-season fillip to the World No 42.
Saying that, the Kodagu player has already enjoyed a good start to the year as he won the Qatar Open with Wesley Koolhof on Friday. The pair, playing in their first tournament at any level, beat the combination of Luke Bambridge and Santiago Gonzalez 3-6, 6-2, 10-6.
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"It was a different kind of a title win compared to my previous ones," Bopanna said. "I had my daughter there watching me for the first time. Even otherwise, I did have a few issues over the last 7-8 months with my knee and shoulder thanks to the years of wear and tear. I am happy to say that I am already feeling much better. My shoulder is 100% fine and my knees are 50-60% better." He credited the role of Madhan, a Bengaluru-based doctor, in his recovery.
About his week at Doha, Bopanna said the victory didn't come as a surprise because establishing trust and communication with Koolhof wasn't a problem. "You view the partnership like a marriage. If there is communication, it's always better. We always had that trust and communication so there weren't many problems."
What worked in their favour was that even though they were a scratch pair, they had had a hit together a few times. "We have known each other on Tour and have practised together so we came into the tournament knowing a bit about our respective games."
He will regain playing with Shapavalov after the Australian Open but hopes to have a few tournaments with Divij Sharan in the run-up to the Olympics. "We need to play with other partners currently because Divij and me together won't make the cut as a team. If and when we improve our individual rankings, we will team up with Japan in mind."
That has inadvertently led him to explain to the officials managing the Target Olympic Podium (TOP) Scheme the optics surrounding the situation. "I have had to explain to them why we can't play together as we won't make the cuts for most tournaments. But the same expenses are in play when we play with other partners... we take our coaches, physios and so on."