Doubles has been the source of Indian tennis pride since Mahesh Bhupathi partnered Japan’s Rika Hiraki to a grand slam title in 1997 but a lack of coaching quality will ensure singles success remains out of reach, says Rohan Bopanna.
Bopanna, who joined Bhupathi, Leander Paes and Sania Mirza as the latest Indian grand slam champion when he teamed up with Canadian Gabriela Dabrowski at Roland Garros, said the country should not be satisfied with winning doubles crowns.
And the 37-year-old disagreed with the theory that doubles glory was a stepping stone to singles success.
“If playing doubles was a shortcut to success we would have had a number of players ranked in the top 50,” Bopanna said in an interview.
“There was no system in place for players to come through. Whoever did well in singles in the past did it on their own.”
While Paes alone has amassed eight doubles grand slam titles to go with 10 in mixed doubles, India has had only rare glimpses of joy in singles.
In the early 1960s, Ramanathan Krishnan twice reached the singles semi-finals at Wimbledon. His son Ramesh and Vijay Amritraj both made the last eight there, as well as at the US Open, and were ranked in the top 25 in the world at one point.
Since then, however, the now-retired Somdev Devvarman’s 62nd spot in 2011 is the highest an Indian player has been ranked in the singles.
“The players, the federation, the corporates, everyone has to come together to help out for the future of Indian tennis,” Bopanna said.
“That’s how a sport will grow in India, when there is a system in place.
“There are kids who have the potential, they only have to be guided well and supported well and we will have singles players playing at the highest level.”
Bopanna said Indian players had the skills to compete at the highest level but often lacked the fitness to be successful.
“We need to have a system in place at the grassroots level for the future of Indian tennis. That’s one reason I have started my academy in Bengaluru,” he said, adding that he had also met India’s sports minister, Vijay Goel, this week to discuss how to promote tennis in the country.
“I am also bringing a couple of coaches to my academy in Bangalore from outside. One from the United Kingdom and one from Serbia. They will be there for an year at least.
“I want the kids to have that opportunity to learn from experienced foreign coaches in their own country. They often spend a lot of money to get trained by foreign coaches for just one or two months, which is not of much help.”
Bopanna enjoyed some memorable singles wins, including the deciding victory in the Davis Cup tie against Brazil in 2010 that brought India back into the World Group after 19 years, before completely focusing on doubles.
Prior to his French Open mixed doubles success, he partnered Pakistan’s Aisam-ul-haq Qureshi to a runner-up finish at the U.S. Open men’s doubles.
It took Bopanna 14 years to achieve his grand slam dream after turning pro in 2003 but he said he never gave up hope.
“As a sportsman if you don’t have the belief then you have no motivation to really go out there and play,” said Bopanna, an ambassador of sportswear brand Zeven.
“It was truly a personal goal, so there was no number to it. It didn’t matter how many years it took.
“It has been many years of sacrifices, discipline and commitment. Not only from my side, but from my coaches, family, friends and the team, who are working throughout. Everyone has played a huge part.”