Indian Tennis

Rohan Bopanna's perennial sidelining by AITA is huge disservice to India's top-ranked doubles player

Despite being a proficient tennis player, the 36-year-old has never been regarded to be in the same league as Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi.

Rohan Bopanna is India’s top-ranked doubles player at 28th place in the ATP rankings. But based on the way he has been unceremoniously excluded from India’s Davis Cup squad taking on New Zealand in February by the All India Tennis Association, it looks as if he isn’t the No. 1 priority for Indian tennis administrators.

Bopanna’s frustrations spilled over in the aftermath of the AITA’s team selection. “There was not even a courtesy email from AITA that I was not part of the team,” he said. “I am very hurt that no one from the federation communicated with me about the issue,” he added. However, it was the casualness of the AITA response that was more negatively revealing.

From a Davis Cup hero to the relegated

“The decision was taken by the selection committee and no injustice was done to Bopanna,” said Hiranmoy Chatterjee, the AITA CEO. “We send out mails to different players asking about their availability, then the selection committee chooses the players from the available pool and an official press conference is held to announce the squad. I think Bopanna should have respected the decision and shouldn’t have cried foul,” he added.

Considering that a similar vein of perfunctoriness was adopted by the team coach and AITA selector Zeeshan Ali, then, accounts for the AITA’s decision – and its justification – undermining the contribution of the 36-year-old, who has been an instrumental part of India’s Davis Cup outfit for 16 years.

Back in 2010, in India’s World Group Play-off against Brazil held in Chennai, it was Bopanna’s win in the final reverse singles rubber that helped the hosts reach the World Group after nearly two decades. But while the Bengaluru native became the hero of the team – and the country – after that win, in these six years, the eventfulness of the win seems to have been slowly eroding with Bopanna being regularly cast as an unbending entity, prioritising personal objectives over the team’s and nation’s interests.

The story of comparisons

The latter opinion is an unfavourable continuation of the comparative narrations that have been made between him, on one side, and Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi on the other.

The successes of Paes and Bhupathi, both as a team and in parallel following their split, helped India retain its momentum in the international tennis circuit. Their prominence and dominance, however, coated the expectations from Bopanna who, despite being a proficient tennis player with notable title wins to his name, hasn’t been unable to reach the heights that Paes and Bhupathi achieved at the peak of their careers.

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Although Bopanna has convincingly surmounted the burden of living up to these established precedents, in team-based events he is still regarded as a second fiddle instead of the country’s top-ranked player. The AITA’s constant disregard for his choices then drive home this aspect quite noticeably.

The team’s road forward

“Whenever Leander and Rohan have played together, they have not done well,” SP Misra, an AITA selector, went on to say about Bopanna’s exclusion from the India-New Zealand tie. “The other factor being Rohan [is] an ad court player. Even Saketh [Myneni] is an ad court player, while Leander prefers [playing on] the right side of the court. If we pick Rohan and Saketh, then we have two ad court players. Even Rohan and Saketh have not done well as a pair,” he added.

This a contradiction of the AITA’s previous premise upon which it had overridden Bopanna’s choice of selecting Saketh Myneni as his doubles partner for the Rio Games. In addition, it was also a misinforming statement for Bopanna, too, like Paes, plays on the deuce court. The similarity in their court preferences has then been the primary reason for their partnership not working out across a greater proportion of tournaments they have had teamed up for.

In misstating the obvious, the AITA has then laid upon a detrimental face to the Indian tennis contingent’s construct, with Bopanna losing out the most in its reshuffled team composition. And while Misra’s post-selection, offhand remark of, “Look, we don’t know how long Leander will be playing. Rohan is much younger and he can always make a comeback,” seems to be a hint that Bopanna would be considered in the ties ahead, from the perspective of the player, it’s not only quite an ambiguous window of opportunity, but one that also does tremendous disservice to what the 2010 US Open finalist has come to be for Indian tennis, stuttering at the waning illustriousness of Paes, and Bhupathi.

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