INTERVIEW

Rohan Bopanna interview: With a proper system, 'there will be no controversy in Indian tennis'

The 36-year-old opened up about his goals for 2017 and what is hurting Indian tennis.

Having been left out of India’s Davis Cup squad for the tie against New Zealand in February, Rohan Bopanna is now solely focussed on his Grand Slam dream. The world No. 28 will join forces with Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas, who won the 2008 French Open doubles title with Luis Horna, later this season.

On the sidelines of the Chennai Open, where he starts his 2017 campaign in the company of fellow Indian Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, 36-year-old Bopanna opened up about his goals and what is hurting Indian tennis. Excerpts from the interview:

The start of a new year; the same Grand Slam dream for you?

Winning a Slam has to be the final goal. I have reached the 2010 US Open final [with Aisam Qureshi]; now, it’s about taking the next step.

And how far do you think you are from that goal?

When you are winning tournaments, when you are beating players who then go on to win Grand Slams, you know you are not very far. It’s a matter of stringing six matches together. That’s what is going to make a difference. For the coming year, I thought of playing with a partner who is already playing at a high level, has won a Grand Slam in doubles, so the occasion doesn’t take over. We both play positive tennis. The style of play I had with Florin [Mergea], somebody who serves and stays back, is similar with Pablo.

The whole business of chopping and changing in doubles partnerships, how much has that affected your progress? There was a time when doubles used to be all about steady teams.

The rules have changed now. Singles players are allowed to use their ranking to get into tournaments. Also, Florin sent me an email saying he wanted to find a new partner, so that left me no choice but to look for a new partner. When somebody makes a decision as a professional athlete, you respect that decision and move on. Among the guys who were available, I thought Pablo was the right fit for me.

You are not part of the Davis Cup tie against New Zealand in February, but looking at the bigger picture, what are your goals for India?

Representing the country is already a huge thing. I have been doing it from 2002. For me, it’s important to have a great system in place. Not only for me, but for the younger kids. It’s not only at Davis Cup level, [but] right from the grassroots level. You put norms into place and knowing this is what we follow, there will be no controversy in Indian tennis. Unfortunately, that’s not there.

Players make a lot of sacrifices. Not only players, but their families and coaches [too]. They play consistently throughout the year to climb up the rankings. At that point in time, if there is a system in place, everybody knows, ‘This guy is ranked higher than me, he gets selected,’ and that’t it. There’s no argument over it. I got so many calls from parents, saying this goes on even at junior levels. I don’t understand why we keep having same discussions all the time. It does not help any player, it does not help any person who is watching. It’s just about doing the right thing for the sport and for the country.

How do you deal with it personally?

You don’t want to be in a situation like that. You want to play freely, you don’t really want to think about things. Looking at the future, it’s time some changes happened. If you want champions to come out, players doing well, representing the country in Olympics, it has to be a positive atmosphere.

Personally, I don’t want to deal with it, but then sometimes the frustration boils over and I talk, sometimes it doesn’t. You don’t need that as a player. I don’t want the future players to have the same struggles. If somebody is listening to my voice, to help with the future, great.

Looking from the outside, it seems that Indian tennis is all about controversies.

It is. Not just about looking that way.

Given all the issues surrounding team selection, do you think there could be a sense of disillusionment among the younger players?

I hope not, because there is nothing bigger than playing for your country. We don’t want that bitterness. When we are playing on the ATP circuit everything is going smoothly. At the end of the day, the ATP calendar is already packed. Constantly playing tennis, being on the road, it’s very hard for the players to commit themselves. They are committing to it only to play for India. But after a certain point, if it keeps going on, not many people are probably going to want to do it.

You are 36 now. Coming back to your Grand Slam dream, do you feel like the clock is ticking faster?

Winning a Grand Slam is the toughest thing possible. [In the] last 16 Slams, there have been 13 different winners. There haven’t been any consistent winners. Even the Bryan brothers haven’t won one for a while. I keep getting asked whether I am in a drought. It seems like everybody thinks [that] if you are in a Slam, [the] next day you have to go and win it. Actually, even making the Grand Slam draw is something [great]. Because we come from a place where there is zero system in place. Fighting through that is already a challenge. I started competing as a professional only at 22, but in tennis there are players starting at the age of 17, 18 on the tour and playing at a high-level. So I am not looking at the age at all. As long as I’m fit, I’m playing, I’m fine.

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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.