It was Indian tennis’ Throwback Thursday moment on Twitter, sort of. Mahesh Bhupathi, now the captain of India’s Davis Cup team, posted a photo from 20 years ago. That was when he had just won the first of his 12 Grand Slam wins, the 1997 French Open mixed doubles with Japan’s Rika Hiraki. Alongside it was another picture — that of the country’s latest Major winner.
In his 14th year on the Tour, Rohan Bopanna, in partnership with Gaby Dabrowski (who became the first Canadian woman to win a Grand Slam), got the monkey off his back and became only the fourth Indian after Bhupathi, Leander Paes and Sania Mirza to win a Grand Slam. Like most things Bopanna, the win came the hard way. The seventh seeds saved two championship points to beat Anna-Lena Groenefeld of Germany and Colombia’s Robert Farah.
For all his obvious talent and consistency on the doubles tour, the spotlight has rarely been on Bopanna.
For long a sideshow in Indian tennis’ soap opera of selection fiascos and camps, he has had to play catch-up and grow steadily. However, the 37-year-old — India’s highest-ranked doubles player at 22 — has let the racquet do the talking lately.
Bopanna started the year with the Chennai Open title with Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan and won April’s Monte Carlo Masters with Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas. Incidentally, his last four Masters finals have all come on clay, including April’s Monte Carlo title. Bopanna, who admittedly didn’t like the surface during the initial years, has said that he has learned to adapt and has begun to enjoy clay in the past couple of years.
Relieved as he may be after checking one box, Bopanna’s next, arguably bigger, challenge would be winning the men’s doubles title. After all, the mixed event is played officially at only the four Grand Slams and the Olympics, and is perceived by many as an afterthought. Only two years ago, Paes went on a rampage with Martina Hingis, collecting all Grand Slam mixed doubles titles except French Open, which they won in 2016. The defending champions were knocked out in the first round this year, another instance of the 43-year-old Paes’ waning powers. But while Paes won the last of his eight men’s doubles Grand Slam in 2013, Bopanna contested his only final seven years ago.
However, one can count on the pragmatic Bangalore man to draw confidence from his achievement and kick into another gear. In any case, a French Open mixed doubles title goes a long way in establishing him as the country’s go-to doubles player.
Another one of Bhupathi’s tweet suggests exactly that. “So proud of rohanbopanna .. years of working, waiting and knocking on the door @rolandgarros #firstslam … Captain Khush Hua!! (sic)”