BANGALORE: India’s doubles star Rohan Bopanna says the bitterness that had developed between him and Leander Paes in the build-up to the 2012 London Games is “long gone and over” and he was not averse to the idea of pairing with his senior compatriot for the Rio Olympics if there are no fitness issues.
Paes was furious when Bopanna decided to team up with another veteran star from the country, Mahesh Bhupathi after initially agreeing to play with him, leaving the Olympic medallist to combine with rookie Vishnu Vardhan.
Interestingly, it was now on Bopanna’s insistence that Paes was asked to play along with him in Davis Cup tie against Serbia.
When asked it was surprising that he took initiative to bring Paes in the line up, despite having bitter memories from the past, Bopanna said, “I have matured as a player.”
“You can’t sit back and look in the past. You take decisions at the moment and no one can tell whether it’s wrong or right. No one can predict future. As players you mature and you move on, you leave the past behind. You keep going,” he said in an exclusive chat ahead of their clash against Nenad Zimonjic and Illija Bozolzac.
Quizzed if this decision was taken, keeping in mind a possible pairing with Paes for the 2015 season, so that they can create an on and off court bond to have a shot at glory at 2016 Games, Bopanna said it had nothing to do with future.
“Saturday’s match we are playing truly because, we are representing India. Passion for the Davis Cup will always be there. We are not taking this match whether we gel or not. I have known Leander for many years. He brings his heart out when he plays, It will be great for me. First time I am playing in Bangalore, it’s my 20th tie. It’s just for this Saturday and this tie. He’s the best doubles player out there in India. We had to play.”
But is there a possibility that tennis fans would see them as a team at Rio Games and he says, “it’s tough to tell” but one thing is sure that there was no bitterness in his heart now.
“Of course there’s a great opportunity. As tennis players we have to keep ourselves healthy. You don’t know whether you are going to be fit or not. We take it as it comes. If Leander and me are fit and healthy and playing at highest level, it will be a great opportunity to represent the country at Rio with him. That time will tell and obviously is our goal,” Bopanna said.
“As you said if there was a chance to play at Rio, If I had bitterness, I would not say that. We players forget the past. Like in tennis, you lose tournaments but you keep playing, you keep practising. You keep fighting. That’s the way in life too.”
Bopanna was also categorical in his view that he had done no wrong by deciding to play with Bhupathi in the 2012 season.
“At that point of time, I thought it was right to play with Mahesh. And if you look at 2012, it was the best performance for me, up to date in any year. We won in Dubai, Paris. Cincinnati we made finals, Shanghai, I made finals of the London Masters, I don’t regret that decision at all to play with Mahesh.
“To play with him was a huge moment. Playing with him the whole year was exceptional. There’s no regret for me whether what I did, who I picked, what I felt was right, I went with that. That’s how I have been going. Sometimes it may go wrong, it may go right,” he said.
Bopanna hoped that Paes has also forgotten the episode. “Leander has matured as a player. He understands the situation. At that time probably it was tough. When you look through it at the back, everybody understands it. You can’t keep holding and saying that bitterness is there or not. It’s long gone and over. We as players forget the past,” he said.
Bopanna and Aisam ul Haq Qureshi have struggled as they have managed to win only one title – the ATP 500 event in Dubai. They ended runners-up in ATP 250 events in France and Sydney but Bopanna started the year as number 13 and is now placed almost on the edge of the top-30 at number 27.
They struggled at the Grand Slam level also as they crashed out in the first round of US Open and suffered second-round exits at Rolland Garros and Wimbledon. Making the third round at Australian Open was their best show at Majors.
“As a sportsman you have your up and downs. That’s part of the game, you got to fight back and keep playing to your best abilities and find a way back to get back to the top,” Bopanna said.
Bopanna was non-committal if he and Aisam ul Haq Qureshi will continue as a pair in the 2015 season.
“You are asking me something two years down the line. I have not spoken to anyone about the next year. There’s still 3-4 months to go. Then I will decide whether to continue with Aisam or not, next few weeks would be crucial.
“We have not planned anything for the next year. Our first priority is to make the London Masters (year-end finals) this year. Even though we are ranked 13 but still there are two Masters series and two ATP 500s left in the calendar.”
So what’s the deciding factor in creating a partnership? Bopanna said: “Lot of things go into it. It’s like a marriage. You can’t really say that is the one thing I like about the person. You are spending 24X7 with that person. You are travelling 35 weeks together. So the camaraderie has to be good.
“Before we started playing we were friends. There are low times when we lose matches but as the friendship goes, it’s a healthy relationship. Even if we decide not to play, partnership may not be there but friendship remains,” he said.
Asked if they could still play the same in 2014 season as they did before parting ways in 2012, he said his chemistry has been “fantastic” with Aisam.
“The main thing is we are great friends that transpires off the court and on the court we had two ups to start with but we have been struggling with confidence after that. Aisam got hurt at Wimbledon, he could not serve and volley, despite him having that back spasm he did extremely well fighting and we lost to eventual champions.
“We were low on confidence, not many matches under the belt. US Open we definitely were favourites to win that match, we had lot of chances but lack of practice did not get us through that match.”
Bopanna said they got so much success at the start of their partnership since they were a new pair on the circuit.
“The fact is in 2010 no body knew how to play us. When you are new on the Tour, like Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil are new as a team, hot as a team, everybody tries to figure out.
Bopanna and Qureshi lost many close matches but the Indian said they could not do anything “different”.
“It’s matter of fact of playing percentage tennis. Making sure you get your first serve in, making the guy play. That’s the ideal situation. In Super tie Break you need luck as well. Couple of net calls, always help, you lose some close ones and win some close ones. That’s part of the game.
“Super Tie breaks finish so fast. You don’t have time to analyze. This year at US Open first time ever I won a mixed doubles 10-0, that’s never happened with me. Whatever you do, you don’t expect that. You will take that anytime but you it’s not going to happen,” he signed off.