CHENNAI: "I don't know, maybe about 35-40," Rohan Bopanna says. He is replying to a question on how many Covid-19 tests he has had to do since playing his first tournament, Cincinnati Masters in August.
"You take a test every time you enter a tournament, then you take a test once every 3-4 days... on top of that, most airlines demand a negative certificate so you take one before every journey."
The World No 39 in doubles is now into his third decade at the professional level, so it's fair to say he has seen a lot. Yet, the last three-and-a-half months of tennis has left him feeling like a kid in a candy store. "I had missed it a lot during the lockdown so it was nice to compete again at the highest level. I'm thankful to all the tournament organisers. What they have done, it's not easy but they have pulled it off." But he did miss something. "It was different because we didn't have the fans, really did miss them. The atmosphere isn't what you are accustomed to."
It's not been easy because organisers have had to secure special permissions from their governments to ensure there would be no quarantines for the players coming into their country. Bio-bubbles had to be created and maintained and trust, an important currency even in normal circumstances, had to be ever present. The 40-year-old says the organisers ticked all the boxes, he understood all the Covid-related precautions. "We all knew the tests were done to keep the environment safe from infection. Was it uncomfortable? Apart from those few seconds when I was having my nasal swab, I wouldn't say so. We are still working and being paid... just thankful for that."
When the conversation switches to his on-court form, he's again thankful, first and foremost, to having had the opportunity to get back. "I got a lot of matches, reached the final (European Open with Matwe Middlelkoop), had the quarterfinal in Paris Masters (Oliver Marach)... nice streak I would say."
In all, he reached quarterfinals thrice, as many first-round exits and one final. But what that sequence doesn't tell is that he had four partners. Even if doubles exponents do have multiple partners, having four different ones in back-to-back weeks is unusual. Bopanna agrees. "I don't think I have had that many in as many weeks, but it's just this season. The original plan was Marach and me in Vienna (World Tour 500). But after realising that we wouldn't make the cut as it was very competitive, I decided to play in Nur Sultan (Astana Open) with (Frederik) Nielsen before getting back to Paris for the Masters. You would usually stay in Europe but I took a detour from Belgium (for the European Open) to Asia and back to Europe. The cuts this year meant a lot of players had to do that."
Currently in home quarantine after getting back to India following the Paris Masters, the extraordinary circumstances mean he doesn't know when he will leave for Australia. "Do you know when the season is going to begin? Exactly, we don't know yet." A reminder that the world of tennis is still plotting its way around the pandemic.
Pune meeting after Deepavali
Meanwhile, the meeting to decide the fate of the Tata Open Maharashtra has been put back by two weeks. The organisers and the Maharashtra government were scheduled to meet in the first week of November to decide on quarantine rules, possibility of spectators and dates but that meeting hasn't happened yet. "It will take place after Deepavali," an official said.
As of now, the tournament will not take place in its scheduled slot between February 1-8. It's also learned that the ATP would push for the organisers to secure a 'no quarantine' rule — that's how players went about playing in all tournaments since the circuit returned in August — from the government to have any chance of the tournament going ahead.