'Level 44' a testament to my dedication to tennis, passion for competing at highest level: Bopanna after Miami Open feat | Tennis News - Hindustan Times

'Level 44' a testament to my dedication to tennis, passion for competing at highest level: Bopanna after Miami Open feat

ByAratrick Mondal, New Delhi
Apr 11, 2024 01:12 PM IST

In conversation with HT, Bopanna opens up about his win in Miami, partnership with Ebden, preparations for the Olympics and Nagal's fabulous start to 2024.

"I'm not 43 years old. I'm on level 43," said an emotional Rohan Bopanna after the biggest night of his career, earlier in January, after lifting his maiden men's doubles title in the Australian Open alongside Matthew Ebden. For the grand old man of Indian tennis, who turned 44 last month, the victory could have been a perfect swansong. But that 'level 43' remark summed up that the end is far from over. Two months later, Bopanna and Ebden bounced back from a set down and reeled off the final six points of the championship match to beat Ivan Dodig and Austin Krajicek inside Hard Rock Stadium and clinch the Miami Open title. It was their second Masters 1000 win as a pair, and sixth overall for Bopanna. Having become the oldest Masters 1000 winner in Indian Wells last year, the Indian also broke his own record by claiming the Miami crown.

Rohan Bopanna with his maiden Miami Open men's doubles title(Indian Tennis Daily)
Rohan Bopanna with his maiden Miami Open men's doubles title(Indian Tennis Daily)

At 44, for a player who has no cartilage in both his knees, and had almost given up on tennis four years back, the Miami title is more than merely another feather to his already crammed hat. "It is a testament to my dedication to the sport and passion for competing at the highest level," asserted Bopanna.

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In an exclusive conversation with Hindustan Times Digital, Bopanna opens up about his win in Miami, partnership with Ebden, preparations for the Olympics and Sumit Nagal's fabulous start to 2024. The veteran India tennis star also talked about his partnership with ASICS and their latest campaign, ‘Move Your Mind’. Here are excerpts...

Q. Could you talk about your win in Miami, your sixth Masters 1000 title in men's doubles, and you broke your own record for being the oldest ever ATP Masters title holder.

Bopanna: I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to compete at the highest level and to secure my sixth Masters 1000 win in men's doubles at Miami. I am thankful for the support of my team, fans, and loved ones who have been with me every step of the way. This victory keeps my belief of not settling for less and breaking my own record, keeping me from constantly trying to excel.

Q. It's been over two months since that historic night in Melbourne. There was a country-wide celebration. You were felicitated by Karnataka tennis. But what is that one memory from all this, including the match, that your mind keeps revisiting?

Bopanna: Reflecting on the historic night in Melbourne and the subsequent country-wide celebration, including the felicitation by the Karnataka State Government and the Tennis Association and, also, receiving encouragement from the honourable Prime Minister personally, there's one memory that my mind often revisits. It's the overwhelming sense of pride and joy I felt representing my country on such a grand stage. The support from fans, the energy of the crowd, and the intensity of the match itself—all culminated in an unforgettable experience. This memory serves as a constant reminder of the passion and love I have for the sport of tennis and the privilege of competing at the highest level.

Q. The age factor has been common in discussions about your achievements over the last few years. How do you feel about this "level 44" talk?

Bopanna: I feel incredibly grateful for the longevity of my career in professional tennis. Age is indeed a factor that comes up in discussions, however, I believe age is just a number, and what truly matters is how well one takes care of their body and mind, stay motivated, and continue to hone their skills on the court. The "level 44" talk personally resonates in a way, as it highlights my ability to compete at a high-level despite being considered older in the world of tennis. It's a testament to my dedication to the sport and my passion for competing at the highest level possible.

Q. You have been with numerous doubles partners, but what has been the recipe for success that has worked with Matthew Ebden?

Bopanna: Partnering with Matthew Ebden has been a fantastic experience for me. The recipe for success with Matthew lies in our chemistry on and off the court. We both bring different strengths to the table, and we complement each other's game exceptionally well. Our communication is key; we understand each other's game styles and tendencies, which allows us to anticipate each other's moves and support one another during matches. Additionally, our shared commitment to hard work, determination, and constant improvement has played a crucial role in our success as a doubles team. Overall, it's our mutual respect, understanding, and communication that have contributed to our achievements together on the tennis court.

Q. The biggest event of the year is the Olympics. You are yet to select your partner. You will also need a bit of match practice before the tournament. How much of that will be working on your head in the build-up to it?

Rohan: As I prepare for the Olympics, selecting the right partner and ensuring adequate match practice are indeed crucial aspects of my preparation. The Olympics represent one of the most significant events in any athlete's career, and the pressure to perform at the highest level is always present. The process of selecting a partner involves careful consideration of various factors, including compatibility on the court, playing styles, and previous performances together. It's essential to find someone with whom I share good chemistry and can form a cohesive team. I try to focus on the aspects of my game that I can control and trust in my abilities to perform when it matters most. Ultimately, my goal is to approach the Olympics with confidence, preparedness, and a clear mindset, ready to give my best effort on the court.

Q. Through Doubles Dream Project you have created a tennis community, who are travelling together and supporting each other. Still in its early days, but are there similar plans for women and singles players (male or female)?

Bopanna: The Doubles Dream Project has been an incredible initiative aimed at creating a supportive tennis community where players can travel together and help each other achieve their goals. The project is currently focused on men’s doubles players.

Expanding the project to include women’s doubles players is something that I am actively considering. Creating a supportive environment for all players, regardless of their playing style or gender, is essential in fostering a strong and united tennis community. By providing opportunities for players to travel together, share resources, and support each other, we can enhance the overall tennis experience and help players reach their full potential. Collaboration and support within the tennis community are crucial for the growth and development of the sport, and I am excited about the potential for future initiatives that will benefit all players.

Q. How has your association been with the ASICS over the last four and a half years?

Bopanna: It's been a fantastic journey with ASICS for the past four and a half years. The brand ethos ‘Sound Mind, Sound Body’ which defines how our body movement can positively impact own mental health and dedication to innovate best-in-class technology in footwear and apparel perfectly resonates with my own pursuit of peak performance. We share a passion for inspiring people to move, and together we have launched this campaign 'Move Your Mind' to showcase the mental and physical benefits of exercise. ASICS' commitment to the craft the right gear truly empowers athletes like me to push boundaries and achieve our goals.

Q. Could you talk about the brand campaign, ‘Move Your Mind with ASICS’

Bopanna: ASICS latest campaign ‘Move Your Mind’ defines the significance of our holistic well-being and the interrelation between our mind and body. But what I find unique about ASICS' approach in 'Move Your Mind' is the emphasis on movement being the key to maintain the physical and mental well-being. The focus on movement is particularly relevant in today's world where so many of us spend a lot of time sitting. This campaign exemplifies not only about passive practices, but rather about the active process of getting your body moving and experiencing the positive impact it has on your mind. It's a powerful reminder that even a short burst of activity can make a big difference. It sends a strong message that prioritising our mental and physical well-being, and finding healthy ways to manage stress, is important for everyone, regardless of gender.

Q. There have been campaigns as such in the past promoting holistic well-being, but where does ASICS' stance stand out?

Bopanna: There are different campaigns that delivers a strong message about holistic wellness, but what I find unique about ASICS' approach is the emphasis on movement and how it is that one key to maintain your mental well-being. It's not about passive practices, but rather about the active process of getting your body moving and experiencing the positive impact it has on your mind. This resonates with me as an athlete because it acknowledges the mind-body connection we all experience. For me, pushing myself physically is a great way to clear my head and stay sharp on the court.

Q. Lastly, a word on Sumit Nagal and his impressive run so far in 2024. And how do you fancy his chances for the rest of the year?

Bopanna: Sumit Nagal, also an ASICS athlete, has indeed been making waves with his impressive performances on the tennis circuit in 2024. His dedication, hard work, and talent have been evident in his results, and it's been fantastic to see him achieve success.

As for his chances for the rest of the year, I believe Sumit has a bright future ahead of him. His continued improvement and growth as a player bode well for his prospects in upcoming tournaments.

Of course, tennis is a highly competitive sport, and there will be challenges along the way. However, if Sumit stays focused, maintains his work ethic, and keeps believing in himself, I have every confidence that he will have a successful year ahead. I look forward to watching his journey unfold and seeing him achieve even greater heights in the future.

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