Sportspersons tend to believe that even at the fag end of their careers, they still have the talent to revive the pleasures associated with their once pristine pasts. Delusional as it may sound, it is often the magic potion that keeps them going.
Rohan Bopanna has long been convinced by this, and on Wednesday at the Australian Open, he tasted salvation following his 6-4, 7-6(5) quarterfinal victory (with partner Matthew Ebden) over Argentines Maximo Gonzalez and Andres Molteni.
Come Monday, the 43-year-old is set to be crowned the new World No. 1, a career-high ranking which will also make him the oldest top-ranked men’s doubles player. The previous record was held by Mike Bryan (41), and Bopanna will join three other illustrious Indians in Mahesh Bhupathi, Leander Paes and Sania Mirza to reach the pinnacle.
“I am very proud,” Bopanna said during a virtual media interaction on Wednesday. “It is not an overnight achievement. You have to perform week in and week out. And my last year has proved that.”
In 2023, Bopanna played some of the best tennis of his life. He made eight finals, including two at Grand Slams after a gap of five years — with Sania Mirza in Australian Open mixed doubles and with Ebden in US Open men’s doubles. He won two titles, at Indian Wells Masters and Doha ATP 250.
He finished the year No. 3, a ranking he last reached way back in 2013. In that decade between the two highs, Bopanna said he always dreamt of the coveted top spot.
“I did, especially when I was No. 3 a decade ago and it was so close to the top. Little did I know that I would do it 11 years later. Having an Indian at No. 1 can may be inspire other young guys to pick up a racquet, or a sport, or just in life in general.”
Bopanna’s two decades as a professional is a tribute to his persistence, for sporting careers can sometimes gratuitously grind to a halt.
“End of 2019, I was on two or three painkillers a day. The thought of stopping did cross my mind. In 2021, in the first four months, I didn’t win a match (seven straight defeats). As a player, sometimes you feel that the journey is done. But I found newer ways to persevere and I am proud of that.”
Bopanna’s former Davis Cup captain Anand Amritraj was wholesome in his praise. “It’s an unbelievable effort to be No. 1 at any age, more so…