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'For me, politics and sports don't mix'
July 11, 2003 18:17 IST
Last Updated: July 11, 2003 18:17 IST
Rohan Bopanna is nicknamed Bofors. And like the gun equivalent, he fires the ball using his tennis racket, leaving his opponents indisposed at times. He is learning to kill his target in clinical fashion. The big man that he is, he has lost no time in the last couple of years in making big strides. He is the country's number one singles player, with a present ATP ranking of 316 and also the country's No. 2 Davis Cup player after Leander Paes.
His latest pairing in the $50k Bristol Challenger with Aisam Qureshi of Pakistan in the doubles category may raise eyebrows, but before the patriots make a charge he dismisses them by diplomatically, saying, "Sports and politics never mix."
Qureshi, himself, had sort of created a storm when he played with a Jewish partner, Amir Hadad of Israel, at Wimbledon in 2002. But the Indo-Pak pairing is nothing but an outcome of circumstance: both the players were looking out for a partner and since they have been friends for quite sometime now on the Tour they decided to team-up.
In conversation with Nagraj Gollapudi, just after his 4-6, 2-6 defeat to fifth seed Nicolas Mahut of France, seeded 157, in the Bristol Challenger, Bopanna, shrugging off his disappointment, spoke of how the Davis Cup experiences have been a learning curve and how he is gearing up for greater challenges by playing bigger competition before the crucial World Group play-off tie against The Netherlands, between September 19-21, in Ijsselhallen in Zwolle.
How come you paired with Aisam?
I have known Aisam for a while now as both of us run into each other on the Tour. He didn't have a partner and neither did I, so both of us thought about doing well. I had played one doubles match against him in the Uzbekistan Challenger last year, where I lost in the semi-finals.
Do you both complement with your individual games?
He is a serve-and-volley player and that helps with my big serves.
Are you worried about the political overtones, if any?
Well, both of us were looking out for partners and it really doesn't matter which country the player comes from; and to me, politics and sports don't mix up.
Are you both looking at long-term partnership?
It depends on what tournaments both of us are playing. Also singles is the priority for both of us. So if we end up playing in the same tournament there's a possibility; but it also depends on how we do here [Bristol Challenger, where the duo lost in the quarter-finals to Santiago Gonzales (Mexico) and Jean-Julien Rojer (Netherlands) 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-7(3).].
Did you watch Wimbledon live?
I had enough time to catch up with the men's doubles semi-finals, where it was different to watch Leander [Paes] and Mahesh [Bhupathi] playing against each other with different partners, but the match was good.
You have been beating the top-300 players quite regularly. What can be the reason?
I have been playing lot of matches in the big league over the last one year and that has increased my confidence. Also, I have started believing in my game now; playing against the top-300 players also has raised my game on different surfaces and different countries, which has helped a lot.
How have you taken care of the fitness aspect?
I have been training between tournaments on the road. Also, now I have Prahlad Srinath as my playing coach, so he helps me with my fitness. It's not any official position, it's just a mutual agreement; whenever I can afford him, I take him along.
What are the main points you guys have stressed on?
We've been concentrating more on the serve and the return. Previously, it was very difficult to find someone to play with, who could hang out and serve to me day in day out. But now with Srinath, we can work on my strokes as I know he is always around.
Are the results being seen?
Yes. I have been returning very well from the past; also the volleys have improved. The feedback I got after playing against Japan and New Zealand in the Davis Cup ties is positive, with people telling me that my return has improved.
You have now played five Davis Cup matches: how's the road been so far?
It's been a good experience representing the country at this level. Also, playing in the company of the Leander and Mahesh has been a nice experience.
Advice from the seniors?
They (Ramesh Krishnan, Leander and Mahesh) have always told me not to put any pressure on myself during a Davis Cup tie and just be myself and play a free game.
How do you deal with the pressure of representing the country and not playing a Challenger?
The first time I played in the Davis Cup -- against Japan in New Delhi -- there was added pressure as I was playing in front of a 4,000-strong crowd. But, subsequently, I am enjoying the moment with every match. I don't like to think stuff like, 'I am playing for the country so I should do more….' as it adds to unnecessary pressure.
Against New Zealand, you lost a very close match and then came back with a bang the next day?
It was a good learning experience. The first match against Alastir Hunt was very close, when I was two sets up and managed to throw the advantage and lose 9-7 in the fifth set -- the first five-setter of my career. So it was nice to learn that one should not be confident after going up by two sets and think that the match is over and lose the focus.
The surface was wet and slow after rains had hit the game the earlier day, but both of us raised our game in the final set and it could have gone anyone's way and that day he was the lucky one. But it was a positive lesson as I returned within 24 hours to beat J Shortall in a three-setter without losing my serve once. So it was a nice feeling.
How big is the responsibility on your shoulders now that you are India's No. 2?
I don't think on those lines and don't put any pressure on myself. I only take it match by match.
How are you gearing for the Netherlands tie in September?
By playing as many tournaments as possible: I played in the Challenger in Southampton, Queen's qualifiers and the Nottingham qualifiers and then came Bristol. I move to the Manchester Challenger, then to Italy and then to the United States to play a few Challengers and tournament qualifiers before joining the team in Holland two weeks before the September 19-21 tie. Just in time to acclimatize myself with the conditions and the surface [indoor carpet, mostly] which would obviously help as we are playing a powerhouse.