Emerging from shadows

Tennis

Emerging from shadows

After years of playing second fiddle, Rohan Bopanna has justified his credentials as a Davis Cup singles player with strong showings against South Africa and Brazil.

Having spent most of his professional career on the fringes and under the shadows of more celebrated team-mates, Rohan Bopanna is finally getting the kind of attention and adulation he so richly deserved.

Following a memorable run at the US Open, where he reached the doubles final along with his Pakistani partner Aisam-ul-haq Qureshi, Bopanna scripted India’s stirring come-from-behind win over Brazil last week to put India back among 15 elite Davis Cup teams, a feat he describes the best moment of his tennis life.

Down 0-2 on the opening day, India stormed back to oust the South Americans 3-2 with Bopanna registering a 6-3, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3 victory over the higher-ranked Ricardo Mello. It was a kind of retribution for the 30-year-old after letting slip the advantageous position against World no 27 Thomaz Bellucci in a grueling five-setter on the opening day.

For long, since his Davis Cup debut in 2002, Bopanna hadn’t been the go-to man for India when it came to singles. Ever since Leander Paes restricted himself to doubles contest with Mahesh Bhupathi, Prakash Amritraj and Somdev Devvarman have been preferred over the big-built Bangalorean.  But once Amritraj became ineligible to represent India following the government’s rule that only-Indian passport holders can represent the country, Bopanna got his rightful opportunity earlier this year against South Africa where he played a crucial role in propelling India back into the elite club after a gap of 11 years.

We have seen Paes do it often for India, and last Sunday Bopanna walked the corridors of Davis Cup stardom. “It’s a fantastic feeling,” Bopanna said of his win over Mello. “It’s been the best time of my career, US Open doubles final, entering Davis World group… It’s always a great feeling to play for your country and it feels even better if you play a big role in victories,” he remarked.

After the win Bopanna, normally reticent, made it a point to remind those who doubted his big-match temperament. “Lot of people had been saying that I lack (the ability to finish) at crunch times because there is a demon (in my mind). I must say that I proved them wrong as the only demon that was there was the guy on the other side of my opponent,” he had thundered.

Bopanna, while saying that it feels nice to change the perception of people, maintained that the increased expectations didn’t add any extra pressure on him. “Yes there are more expectations from me now from the people, but I always expected a lot more of myself. Every time I walk on to the court, I put in my best. I have done it over the years and as long as I continue to do so, there is nothing to worry about, expectations or no,” he noted.

India now await the huge test of Serbia, who are in the finals, in an away tie. “For all you know we might be running into the champions when we take on Serbia next. They have quality singles players -- Novak Djokovic and Janko Tipserevic -- and obviously it will be one of the toughest challenges for us,” he admitted.

While his achievements on court have made India proud, his partnership with Pakistan’s Qureshi has been sending out positive vibes between the two hostile neighbours.

“Playing with Aisam has been great for both of us. We have been largely concentrating on doubles and that has helped us work together more on our games. There is obviously a great chemistry between us, not just on court but off court as well. I think the fact that we gel so well off-court actually helps us click as a team. We believe in ourselves and we believe in each other. We know that we can stay with the big teams in big tournaments,” he explained.

Bopanna, however, strongly dismisses adding any political colour to the cross-border association. “We just love to play tennis and we are pursuing our careers. Obviously it’s wonderful being ambassadors of Peace and Sport and spreading that message through our tennis is great. But if one were to say that we are trying to make a political statement then it’s not true. We are not here to make any statement,” he observed.

After the Davis Cup heroics, all eyes will be on Bopanna to fetch a medal for India in the October 3-14 Commonwealth Games.

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