Exclusive: 'Was devastated to hear about Wimbledon cancellation' - Rohan Bopanna opens up on fate of tennis season, relief package for players and more

Written By: Digvijay Singh Deo WION Web Team
New Delhi, Delhi, India Updated: Jun 08, 2020, 02:36 PM(IST)

Exclusive | Rohan Bopanna in conversation with WION Photograph:( AFP )

Story highlights

Rohan Bopanna, in an exclusive interview with WION's Sports Editor, Digvijay Singh Deo spoke about how he is spending his time at his ancestral place in Coorg, how tough is to maintain peak fitness during the lockdown, how's his partnership with Sania Mirza is shaping up again, the decision to postpone Tokyo Olympics and much more... 

With sporting calendar ripped into pieces due to COVID-19 pandemic, athletes have been restricted to train indoors amid the ongoing lockdown to curb the spread of the deadly virus. While the ongoing crisis has led to the cancellation or postponement of many high-profile tournaments, tennis is one of the sports to be hampered most by the dreaded virus. The Tokyo Olympics 2020 has been shifted to 2021 as well.

As sportspersons continue to find new ways to keep themselves in top shape and busy, Grand Slam champion, an Olympic semi-finalist, recipient of Arjuna Award and the reigning Asian Games gold medalist in men’s doubles, Rohan Bopanna, in an exclusive interview with WION's Sports Editor, Digvijay Singh Deo spoke about how he is spending his time at his ancestral place in Coorg, how tough is to maintain peak fitness without being able to train outdoors, how's his partnership with Sania Mirza is shaping up again, decision to postpone Tokyo Olympics and much more... 

Digvijay Singh Deo: Rohan, it is fate isn’t it? Here we are locked up and there you are in your ancestral place...

Rohan Bopanna: Thanks very much Digvijay for having me on this special broadcast. Yes, I am in Coorg at my grandparents' place. I must say I’m fortunate to be in this part of the country during the lockdown.

We have our coffee plantation here, so I go for a run in the morning around the area. Just to be able to walk around this lovely estate is a pleasure. Coffee blossoms are in full swing so its a beautiful site. I don't often get the chance to be here that often, so it's really nice to be here and spend time with the family.

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DSD: Coffee is something which is your passion these days so is that how you are spending your time in Coorg, figuring out new blends?

Rohan: Yes actually I have been exploring new types of coffees. One of my colleagues has come out with a new cold brew series. So I thought I’ll try it out as well because it is very simple to execute. My mother also likes to experiment with coffee liqueur, so she had dried some apricots three months ago, so I put it in the cold brew and it gave the coffee a real good taste. So it's a good time to try something different and explore new things. My sister was also here and I tried my hand at cooking some dishes with her, so overall it's been really fun.

Rohan Bopanna

DSD: Now when the lockdown started in various parts of the world you were on India duty weren’t you returning from Croatia after the Davis Cup tie. You had a harrowing time getting back home. The virus doesn’t differentiate between fit sportspersons like you and unfit journalists like me. It is like a reset button has been hit around the world...

Rohan: I think you're one of the few fit sports journalists out there. But on a serious note, when I was leaving Croatia, I was actually going to Los Angeles via Doha. However, just an hour or so before our flight to la from Doha, we found out that the Indian wells tournament had been cancelled. We landed in Doha at about 11:30 pm on the 8th of march and our flight to LA was in the morning.

Even though we had a transit hotel booked, we couldn't leave the airport because the immigration authorities announced that citizens of certain countries- including India- would not be allowed to leave the airport premises. So obviously when we found out the Indian wells cancellation, we booked our flights to India, but our flight was at 8 pm on the next day. So we were stranded at the airport for almost 20 hours. But fortunately, the airport had a gym and a pool, so we used that and tried to keep ourselves busy.

But looking back, I’m glad that I found out about the Indian wells cancellation before our 16-hour flight to la, because it would have been a bigger problem if had reached the USA and then got to know about the suspension.

DSD: I was speaking to Mahesh Bhupathi last week and he was telling us how difficult it is to maintain peak fitness during a period like this. How are you managing? Do you have a tennis court there in Coorg?

Rohan: I think Mahesh has made a valid point, but another problem for us players is that we don't know when the tour will resume, it is very tough to prepare for the season when there is so much uncertainty around the restart. You can practice at home as much as you can, it's difficult to reach that peak fitness. There is a tennis court very close to my house in a club, but that is closed due to the lockdown so I can't use it.

I practice in my front yard with my niece and nephew for about an hour every day, giving them some lessons, they also play` at my academy in Bangalore. But coming back to the schedule, I think health and safety is everyone's number one priority at the moment. Once the global situation improves, then we can speak about the scheduling of the season and I think we will have enough time to prepare.

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Rohan Bopanna

DSD: Do you have any indication as to when the tennis season can resume with clay and the grass-court season is now gone?

Rohan: It is definitely hard that we're missing all these tournaments. I personally enjoy playing on grass, so I was devastated to hear about the Wimbledon cancellation. But as athletes we cannot control any of these things, they are not in our hands. So we have to understand the situation and adapt to it. Health and safety is the priority at the moment and we have to follow the government's guidelines. This is not just a problem for tennis, it is a global crisis. So once the circumstances improve, then we will see things return to normalcy and things are no different for tennis. So think we need to be a little patient and hope for the best. Every person in the world has been affected by the COVID-19 virus.

DSD: Has this sudden break given you a new perspective about your career, considering how volatile things are? Have you drawn up a list of want to do before I retire?

Rohan: When an athlete is still playing, the thought process behind retirement is different. You take that decision when you are mentally prepared. Overnight when such a thing happens, it is difficult to reflect on your career. Yes, there is a new perspective because you're constantly thinking about something or the other. As the proverb goes, an idle mind is a devil's workshop. But the good things is that my wife and I were blessed with a beautiful baby daughter 10 months ago and we are fortunate that we are getting this time to spend with her.

DSD: Now the Olympics too have been postponed Rohan, you and Sania Mirza reached the medal round last time in Rio. Sania has just returned to the courts and now with some extra time do you think this will play into your hands?

Rohan: Yes we definitely have more time to prepare for the Olympics, but that time would only have been useful if we were playing. As you said, Sania has made her comeback, but she has not been able to really work on her game for the past month or so and same is the case with me.
So the preparation all depends on when the tour starts, and I think we're going to lose at least another few months before it can resume. So the time would have helped if we were competing, but given the current situation, I don't think it makes much of a difference.

Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza

DSD: Rio was your second games after London and both Olympics have been rather tumultuous in the buildup. But what do the Olympics mean for a sportsperson who competes in it?

Rohan: Firstly, I think it was the right decision to postpone the games, it was tough on some of the athletes who had already secured their spot for the games. But at this juncture, no other option was available.

Representing your country at the Olympics is the pinnacle of any sportsperson's career. It is a proud moment to be playing for your country at any event, let alone the Olympics. An athlete works so hard to reach that level and to be able to compete at that stage is something special. Even though I have participated in two games, I am so excited for the Tokyo Olympics and hopefully, I will be part of it. It just doesn't get bigger for an athlete than representing your country at the Olympics.

DSD: There is talk of the ATP and WTA tours coming up with some sort of relief package. The British Tennis Association has already announced something for players in the UK. What are you expecting from the tours, Rohan?

Rohan: It is very tough for every tennis player out there. It is like losing a job overnight. Some players might have been better prepared for this situation financially than others, that is obvious.

So far the ATP has no concrete plan in place to provide relief packages for the players. As players, there has been no communication from the ATP on the matter. But to be fair to the ATP as well, this is a completely unprecedented situation. Not just the financial aspect of it, they also have to decide on what to do with the rankings system.  I think the ATP will come up with the right solution, it will definitely take some time, but they will certainly try to help the players as much as they can.

DSD: Mahesh was telling me that some of the Indian players will struggle if the tour does not resume. How dire is the situation across the world as you all earn a livelihood through the sport?

Rohan: Absolutely it is very difficult for the Indian players. At the moment I think it is best for the players to not overthink it too much, just settle into a routine take every day as it comes. But then again, they can't control these things, so hopefully, this phase will pass and things will get sorted out quickly.

Rohan Bopanna

DSD: A possibility exists of playing behind closed doors. Do you agree with that suggestion, as some money could flow into the player's pockets?

Rohan: I definitely am against the idea of playing behind closed doors. Events in tennis are not held in one country or one city, the tour takes place all around the world. So a lot more preparation goes in, the rules and regulations of each country also have to be kept in mind. In most countries, people will have to be quarantined once they reach. So due to the uncertainty surrounding all events at this time, I think it will be the wrong decision to allow tennis to be held behind closed doors.

The health and safety of each and every individual has to come first and we cannot endanger anyone in the world.

DSD: You were part of the video conference with Prime Minister Narendra Modi a few days ago. What role can sportspersons play during times of crisis like this?

Rohan: First of all, it was inspiring for all the sportspersons who got a chance to speak to the prime minister. I am grateful for him to reach out to us during these times and ensure that our voices were heard. The Indian athletes have inspired so many people in the country, and getting all of them on board really sends the right message to the people.

Even if we can spread awareness to say 1 or 2 % of the population, then that is a good start. So it was a great initiative by the prime minister and the sports minister and it was special to share the platform with them and 50 other sportspersons. I'm glad that I could be part of such a cause.

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