Australian Open: At 43, Rohan Bopanna Keeps Getting Better With Age

Rohan Bopanna (photo: Tennis Australia/Vince Caligiuri

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, January 26, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

Like a fine wine that gets better with age, so, too, do tennis players. Take India’s Rohan Bopanna for instance.

The 43-year-old Indian professional from Bengaluru, India, who specializes in playing doubles, next week will become the oldest man to grace the No. 1 doubles ranking. He’s also into his first Australian Open doubles final, teamed with Matthew Ebden of Australia. The two began playing together as a team early in 2023 and they’ve forged a great on-court partnership.

After reaching the US Open final last year, the No. 2 seeds Bopanna and Ebden are aiming to win their first major trophy together in Melbourne. They will get their chance on Saturday when they face unseeded Italians Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori in the title match on Rod Laver Arena.

“It’s amazing to be back in another Grand Slam final, and a different Grand Slam,” Bopanna said. “Especially I think, I know for it’s definitely the home Grand Slam. For me, I also consider this a lot to be the home Grand Slam, coming from the Asian continent.”

While the 6-foot-4, 185-pound Bopanna, who turned pro in 2003, won 24 ATP Tour doubles crowns and earned more than $6.2 million — and last week celebrated a career milestone by winning his 500th doubles match — garnering a major has always eluded him. Meanwhile, Ebden won Wimbledon in 2022 with fellow Aussie Max Purcell.

“It’s match by match, that’s what we’ve learned,” Ebden said, after he and Bopanna won their semifinal on Thursday against Tomas Machac of the Czech Republic and China’s Zhang Zhizhen, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (10-7), to advance.

“I’m really not going to do anything other than that. I’m not looking too far ahead. Just another tough match on Saturday. But of course very happy and excited at the same time.”

In a career filled with tough matches, Bopanna has never lost sight of his dreams and achieving the career milestone ranking is something he’s proud of achieving – certainly, it’s nothing to take for granted.

“I think for every player out there, it is a dream,” Bopanna said earlier this week in a news conference he and Ebden shared together. “It was my dream, and more so when you’re playing the sport for a couple of decades. Then, now at this juncture for me to get to World No. 1, I think my perseverance to the sport, to stay in it and to keep fighting and to keep working hard, and have such a great partner by my side – I think the consistent year we had last year is why. … This helped me to get to this stage.”

Bopanna, who has reached two AO mixed doubles finals, in 2018 with Timea Babos and last year with Sania Mirza, arrived in Melbourne at a career-high ranking of World No. 3. He is coming off a remarkable 2023 season, in which he and Ebden won a Masters 1000 title at Indian Wells, finished runner-up at the US Open, and reached three other Masters 1000 finals (Madrid, Shanghai and Paris). In Melbourne, Bopanna has never done better than reach the third round in 16 appearances.

“I think the key is to keep communicating. It does help and does make a difference,” Bopanna admitted this week, describing what makes he and Ebden such a formidable team. “It is important to keep each other positive and keep pushing each other.”

Bopanna will leap ahead of current No. 1s Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Austin Krajicek of the United States, who were eliminated in the second round last week. According to the ATP Tour, although Bopanna and Ebden have the same number of Pepperstone ATP Doubles Rankings points, Bopanna will be No. 1 because he has played three fewer tournaments to earn those points.

At a news conference after the semifinal victory, Bopanna was asked if the reality of becoming No. 1 has sunk in. “To be honest, it is still sinking in,” he replied. “A lot of messages, a lot of love, which came in, you know. But obviously the first and foremost was for me to get ready and be ready for playing semifinal match.

“You know, I think once the tournament is fully done and I have a couple of weeks at home at least, I think I can really, you know, relive that moment.

“But of course, very, very proud to be in this position and be ranked as the No. 1 player in the world.”

Among the many well-wishers who reached out to Bopanna was Sachin Tendulkar, one of India’s greatest cricketers.

“I think it’s amazing that he follows tennis for a long, long time, and he was there at Wimbledon watching our match,” Bopanna said. “He’s a dear friend.

“I think it’s always nice when you receive congratulatory messages from another legend in a sport. So, I’m really happy and thankful for that message.”

Hsieh and Zielinski win AO mixed doubles title

Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan and Jan Zielinski of Poland won the Australian Open mixed doubles title on Rod Laver Arena Friday afternoon. The third-seeded Hsieh and Zielinski rallied from a set down and prevailed in a match tie-break over No. 2 seeds Desirae Krawczyk of the United States and Neal Skupski of Great Britain, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 11-9, in one hour and 57 minutes.

Hsieh and Zielinski, who saved a championship point at 9-8 in the match tie-break, combined to hit 22 winners to 12 unforced errors and converted three of five break points. They were outpointed 76-75.

It’s the third Grand Slam title in the last eight months for Hsieh, 38, who will compete for the women’s doubles title teamed with Elise Mertens of Belgium this weekend. She has now won six Grand Slam titles (four Wimbledon and two French Open) in women’s doubles to go with her first in mixed doubles. As for Zielinski, 27, it’s his first major in any discipline. He was runner-up at last year’s Australian Open men’s doubles with Hugo Nys of Monaco.

“I was just looking forward to have some fun on court, seeing how it works out, how it plays out, and I knew before we stepped on court, Su-Wei is a very experienced doubles player,” Zielinski said afterwards in the champion’s news conference. “You know, she has a ton of experience under her, and she can carry us a long way. Yeah, it ended up being a decent run, I would say.”

Added Hsieh: “Of course it’s very exciting and very different than the doubles, because I have win a few doubles. Last year I was in two finals, I was very chill. Probably the chillest player on the court. I was not even feel nervous on the court.

“But with mixed doubles, it was exciting and my partner is very good. I know he’s very good from the baseline, at the net, and the serve. I just need to do my stuff to put the ball inside the court and pass the net person. This is my job, very clear. He’s doing his job so I’m doing my job and we’re doing good.”

Friday’s Australian Open results

Saturday’s Australian Open order of play

By the numbers

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