The lesson that Indian tennis needs to learn from Rohan Bopanna | Tennis News - Hindustan Times

The lesson that Indian tennis needs to learn from Rohan Bopanna

Jan 31, 2024 07:34 PM IST

For starters, it isn't that you should try your hand at doubles

From the manner in which he has maintained his fitness to how his game has continued to evolve, there's so much to like about Rohan Bopanna. At 43, he has won his first men's doubles Grand Slam and become the world No.1 as well.

 India's Rohan Bopanna after winning the men's doubles final with Australia's Matthew Ebden(REUTERS) PREMIUM
India's Rohan Bopanna after winning the men's doubles final with Australia's Matthew Ebden(REUTERS)

And while India and the world celebrate his achievements, there are also some who will point out that the doubles format isn't what it once was with most top players giving it a miss these days. However, from Indian tennis' perspective, the triumph was still very important given a complete lack of buzz around the game in the country.

It tells you that Indians can still find a way to thrive in professional tennis and many may think of doubles as easy money (it is not). But the lesson that truly needs to be learnt from Bopanna's success is a simple one: develop a weapon that will win you free points.

When Bopanna first started making his mark on the national scene, he earned the nickname 'Bofors' for his big serve. The rest of his game wasn't there, his groundstrokes looked awkward to say the least, but he had a serve and he's still got it.

During an interview in 2022, Bopanna spoke about the evolution of his serve.

"So, my dad first taught me how to serve with a continental grip and almost till I was 19 years old, I didn’t know how to hit a kick serve," Bopanna said. "I always hit a lot of flat serves, a lot of slice serves. It was only when I went to Bangalore to train with CGK Bhupathi (Mahesh Bhupathi’s dad) that I started working on my kick serve. Every day, I was hitting easily between 200-250 serves.

"And there were so many times, I was mishitting the serve… hitting it out of court or over the fence. There were so many times while playing the Futures I would serve four double faults in a game. That was frustrating at that time but I kept at it."

But the true evolution only happened when he added the kick serve to his repertoire. Bopanna's dad had taught him to serve with a continental grip. So till almost the age of 19, he didn't know how to do the kick serve. There were flat serves, slice serves but no kick serves. But adding one more variation transformed his serve into a bigger weapon -- one that still helps him win points off his second serve.

The changes have come in regularly. During a Davis Cup tie against Japan’s Kei Nishikori at New Delhi in 2008, their (Japan's) coach Bob Brett suggested a small change. He asked Bopanna to toss the ball closer to his body.

The small change gave him more control and transferred power into the ball more smoothly. It is a rule he still swears by. But just because his serve was good didn't mean he stopped working on it. Rather, he worked even harder to develop it into a super strength.

These days, serving practice for Bopanna isn't about hitting 250-300 serves in a day as he once used to. Rather, it has developed into a target practice. He keeps moving the target about and aims to keep hitting them as often as possible.

“I believe that it is important to keep working on your strengths and not just focus on improving the weaknesses,” the Indian tennis ace said. “I keep telling the youngsters the same thing.”

That is something India will hope its youngsters and their coaches start picking up -- not just a Sumit Nagal or the 16-year-old Manas Dhamne but every youngster who gets into the game with professional aspirations.

Bopanna's success shows how you can continue to build your game around a super strength. An all-round game built on consistency will only take you so far but a big serve or forehand or backhand could take their game to the next level. Sania Mirza's forehand was one such clear example, or Leander Paes' quick hands at the net. Something... anything that allows you to stand out.

Progress in sport is slow. It takes time to get the basics right, it takes years of training to build up the body and then much more to understand the game. All the more reason to focus on the right thing as early as possible.

It worked for Bopanna and who can say it won't for someone else.

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