He has achieved a career high ranking of No 3 in the world, played alongside and against some of the tennis greats, and been in India’s Davis Cup squad since 2002. In spite of choosing to keep a relatively low profile, Rohan Bopanna has consistently been working towards putting the country on the world’s tennis map. What has kept him going through the years? Well, grit, determination, bucket loads of mental strength… and his parents’ support and guidance!
In a recent chit-chat with PC, he touched upon the various aspects of tennis and introducing the game to children.
What are the five important skills/characteristics a youngster should inculcate to be a top sportsperson?
Like in any other field in life, to be successful, you need to be hardworking, disciplined, have clear-cut short-term goals, a never-say-die attitude and the effort to back all of these up with commitment.
How important is mental tenacity to succeed in competitive sport?
It is extremely vital as dealing with loss and bouncing back is one of the most important aspects of playing competitively. One of the best ways to improve the mental strength of kids is to expose them to playing in competitive tournaments and competitions from a young age.
Do you think some children are just born with prodigious sports talent, or do you think anyone can make it to No 1?
I think in today’s competitive environment, just talent is not enough. You need to be able to back it up with a lot of hard work and commitment. In the sporting world, there are always examples of both kinds but I believe with the right mind-set and effort anyone can make it to No 1.
What is your take on the sports scenario in Indian schools these days? What can be done to improve things?
I feel it has improved a lot over the years with more schools emphasising on all-round development of children. Having said that, there is still a lot of scope for improvement in terms of infrastructure, facilities and the level of coaching that should be made available for children from a young age.
Tennis is still viewed to an extent as expensive sport… in what way can it be made more accessible to children across strata, from around the country?
If there was better infrastructure for the sport and more access to it I do believe that more kids across the country would pick up a racquet and take to the sport.
Could you please elaborate on your efforts in field of education for the differently-abled?
I have contributed to schools and institutes for kids with special needs. I have had the opportunity of being able to spend time with many such children. This has been my good fortune and it is an extremely humbling feeling. My wife is a special educator and so, I have understood the field so much better and been able to further educate myself.
What are the other charitable causes are you involved in?
For starters, there is GO sports Foundation that is a non-profit organisation, the aim of which is to empower future Indian Olympians by identifying and providing the right support to the talent pool in the country.
Another is Peace and Sport- an outfit that puts sport and its values at the heart of local development projects conducted within communities in crisis around the world. Exercising its missions in post-conflict zones, areas of extreme poverty or lacking social cohesion, Peace and Sport makes sport a vehicle for tolerance, respect, sharing and citizenship.
Why should a child choose tennis as his/her sport… in one word?
Who are your idols/inspirations?
My parents were extremely encouraging and supportive of my decision to become a professional tennis player- without their encouragement it would have been extremely difficult to have reached where I am today. That apart, my idol was Stefan Edberg. I loved his serve and volley style of play; he had a tremendous personality on and off the court and in interviews which I saw, he was always extremely calm and collected.
What valuable life lessons would you say you learnt from your parents that hold you in good stead to this day, in your career and personal life?
The main lesson my parents taught me was to respect people irrespective of their background or social status and that all people are equal.
Are you more of a mommy’s boy or dad’s pet?
I would not really consider myself either a mommy’s boy or pet! They both treated me with equally and were never very lenient or too hard on me.
How would you describe yourself as a child, in terms of character and behaviour?
I was a hyperactive child and always wanted to be outdoors. As a child, my folks say that I saw anything that was round in shape as a ball. I was very competitive as a child and that has stuck with me till now. I also remember that I always preferred playing to going to school
What are your other pet passions and hobbies?
Being a Kodava, I love the outdoors, adventure sports and anything that can get the adrenaline pumping. My hobbies are watching Bollywood movies and playing golf.
What are your plans for the future?
The plan is to keep competing at the highest level for the next few years and aim to win a Grand Slam.
If not a tennis player, what would you have been?
I am sure it still would have been something involved with sports as I have always been passionate about it!