CHENNAI: Rohan Bopanna is worried about the current state of Indian tennis. At one point during his conversation with this daily, he hints he may not even get the chance to feature in the Paris Olympics because of a lack of options. “How do I answer the question when I don’t have a partner?” he asks.
To be fair, his angst isn’t related to Paris at all. He’s concerned that the next generation in India are being starved of tennis because of the pricing strategy of the broadcaster (apart from the Majors, the rights to most tournaments are held by TennisTV and subscriptions don’t come cheap). The angst can be felt when he questions why players don’t travel with their coaches. It cuts through the phone line even when he’s talking about his Masters triumph in Indian Wells with Matt Ebden last weekend.
Speaking of Indian Wells, he became the oldest to win an ATP Masters title. So, you can see why he describes it as ‘amazing’. “To do it at this age, to be able to push myself to the limit... that has always been the No. 1 thing for me.”
His last Masters title came in 2017 (Monte Carlo). After being ranked inside the Top 40 for a consistent period over the last decade, he fell outside the Top 40 in the latter part of 2021. That being the case, did he feel that he was past his prime? “If I had thought that for even one day, I would have stopped playing,” he says.
Now, he’s just outside the Top 10, a place that he last inhabited in 2016 March. “You want to keep growing upwards, right? What’s the next step? The next step is the Grand Slam, right? A men’s doubles Grand Slam is something I don’t have so it’s my dream to do that. It’s no one else’s... there are so many people who have probably written me off already.”
When the conversation moves to a topic he has been vocal about — the pricing strategy of TennisTV in India — he is intimate about it. “I have had this conversation a couple of years ago... I requested them to see if we can do a lot more in India because there are so many people who love the sport but unfortunately can’t afford the TV pricing and they need to look at that market differently. They said they were going to do it but nothing has really happened.
“The idea is how do you inspire the next generation. That is the hardest part. So many people used to watch before. So many people used to travel for these events and cover. All that has stopped. All the other countries have so many people coming down.”
Talking about the sport’s future in India, then, was a natural segue. “Future of the sport in India... it’s not growing. It’s already gone down in a big way and we need to find a way to start developing. When we have players playing at the highest level and you don’t use that opportunity... it’s not going to get better after that.
“(We) don’t have enough tournaments at that level to constantly challenge and play at that level. We need 15-20 Challengers, 15-20 Futures apart from tour events. Another thing is nobody is ready to take the chance and invest in themselves. End of the day, tennis is like starting your own business. You have got to throw in capital not knowing whether it will come good or not. You have got to take that chance.
“I don’t see anybody traveling with a coach for 25 weeks. How does someone improve? Everybody has a coach but they are all based out of their respective training centres. They travel for a Major here, for a Major there but that’s it.”