Someone who willingly tweaked his own game to adjust to the styles of legendary Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi while playing for the country, Rohan Bopanna often gets baffled to find the love of playing Davis Cup diminishing with passage of time.
Bopanna does not find the current lot as passionate about playing the Davis Cup compared to players from past generations.
“It has become too mechanical to just come, play and leave,” says Bopanna who is set to quit Davis Cup this coming Sunday.
A bit agitated, he feels Davis Cup has become just another tournament for the current generation of players.
On the other side, Davis Cup is one tournament where it is believed across the globe that rankings won’t matter every time. Even the tiny tennis nations sometimes succeed in flooring the behemoths.
And that belief came from the team unity, proper planning and passionate support coming from the bench and the teammates who would shout their hearts out to support the player on the court from the sidelines.
“There used to be fantastic team atmosphere, which has been kind of lost in the last couple of years. And we need to bring that back,” Bopanna told PTI in an interview.
“Davis Cup is all about team camaraderie, spending time with the team, being together, everybody coming together. And I think that is a little missing link. We need to bring it back to have a successful team.”
Bopanna, who made his debut in 2002, spoke his mind on the current state of affairs in the side but even he does not know how the team has reached this point.
He struggles to find an appropriate answer but tries to make sense of the situation.
“There’s no particular reason why it’s happened. I think, in a way, it is just ourselves trying to find each other, you know, understand that the (ATP) Tour is different, Davis Cup is different.”
‘CAMARADERIE IS MISSING’
“I have a feeling tennis has become more like a job, not only in the Davis Cup, but in general everybody comes, plays the matches, goes. 30 weeks they travel, they have their own coach, their own physio and everything.
“When I came into the team, it did not matter who (players) had what differences. In the locker room, that camaraderie was there, no matter what. That is missing.”
“Everybody is just focussed on what they need to do (for themselves) and not really figuring out what is (the) best scenario for the team.”
Bopanna has played with both Paes and Bhupathi in his career, which will end with his 33rd tie on Sunday.
He actually grew up in their shadow and had to wait for a long time to be the leader of the side in terms of bringing experience to the table.
He paired with Paes seven times in Davis Cup and shared the court with Bhupathi on two occasions.
‘PLAYING WITH PAES, BHUPATHI WAS EXTREMELY DIFFERENT’
Talking about those days, Bopanna said playing with the two legends was “extremely different.”
“I had to adapt myself to play with anyone on any side… see what I can bring in. With Leander, I would set up in the net, play that kind of style when he could come to his best. With Mahesh, we would play with a lot of power, both our returns went very quickly. Mahesh had a big first serve.
“When you are trying to play different combinations, you are constantly learning, how can I match up to this person. I have always played with somebody who has played big tennis.
“So, with Leander, I had to unlearn a lot of things to get back and play with him. That was also difficult because I was not used to a lot of things, the chip return, the lob return.”
Ask Bopanna what did he learn from them and it again came to team unity.
“The number one thing I learned from these two is fighting till the last point, keep your differences aside and when you are playing for the country, bring in 200 per cent. Both of them brought that.”
Bopanna won’t say that it becomes easy to say ‘no’ to playing for India.
“I don’t feel so (but) the love of playing Davis Cup is missing. That is why they haven’t been there and don’t probably understand. They just look it as another tournament. The Davis Cup atmosphere… is why at 43, I’m coming out to play, is what changed my life.”
Bopanna said communication with the players is key. Tennis will remain an individual sport but still talking to players, listening to their issues is the key going forward.
“I still want to be very much involved in tennis, because I communicate with all the players all the time. I’m constantly asking them, their calendar, what they’re doing, what they’re playing, suggestions of what can be done.”
‘WINNING AGAINST BRAZIL IN 2010 TRULY SPECIAL’
He is not averse to the idea of becoming the team captain one day.
Ask him about his most memorable Davis Cup tie and the answer was not surprising.
“One hundred percent the 2010 tie against Brazil in Chennai, winning that fifth match from being 0-2 down was truly special. We also ended up going to the World Group playoff after long time.
“Having match points on the first day and then losing… it is amazing that you go through so many emotions. You are this close to winning that match and then 48 hours later, have played the best match to get India across.
“The span of 48 hours, the emotions are so different. When you lose, you are devastated. And, then, to come back and do something you have never done before that, for me is the best tie,” he concluded.
(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed – PTI)