The COVID-19 lockdown has brought the sporting world to a standstill, but Indian tennis ace Rohan Bopanna is looking at the positives of the forced break and is doing everything to keep himself occupied.
The doubles specialist has recently launched a scholarship project in Bengaluru, providing tennis and academic education simultaneously to 60 kids. The 40-year-old, who was a semifinalist in the mixed doubles event at the 2016 Rio Olympics and the doubles champion at the 2018 Asian Games, talked to Malayala Manorama about his ambitious scholarship programme and plans for the future.
Many major tennis tournaments including Wimbledon have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Are you disappointed?
Though I’m sad about it I don’t feel dejected because these are things that I cannot change or have no control over. Not only sportspersons but people in every other field is going through a tough and uncertain time. We can do nothing but wait until the pandemic is over.
At the last Olympics, you reached the semifinals of the mixed doubles event partnering Sania Mirza. Will you two join forces again at the Tokyo Olympics?
I feel the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics to 2021 is a blessing in disguise. All top players will have the opportunity to take part in so many tournaments leading up to the Olympics. Also, the quadrennial event will take place after next year’s Grand Slam tournaments like Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon. Sania’s return to professional tennis is truly an inspiration to everyone. If both of us qualify for the Olympics, we’ll definitely play together.
How are you dealing with the lockdown?
I was at my ancestral home in Coorg. It was for the first time in the last 25 years that I got a chance to stay with my family for two whole months. I’m glad that I could spend quality time with daughter Tridha.
What prompted you to launch such a massive scholarship programme for children?
Tennis is not a 100 metre sprint. It’s a marathon. It takes several years of hard work and preparation to be successful in the sport. These kinds of quality facilities were absent in my growing-up years. I’m looking at giving kids what I did not have when I was a junior player. I want to ensure that talented children get high-quality training and help them realise their potential. I’m extremely proud that this scholarship programme providing training in tennis and academic education with 100 per cent sponsorship is the first of its kind in the world.
What are the eligibility criteria for applying for the scholarship?
It aims at providing tennis and academic education simultaneously to 60 kids at an annual cost of Rs 10 lakh each. In the first year, only those players who have an AITA (All India Tennis Association) ranking are eligible to apply. Selection trials will be held once the lockdown is lifted. The scholarship programme will be run through a collaboration between Rohan Bopanna Tennis Academy (RBTA) and The Sports School, which will be the base of the training centre in Bengaluru. The select children will be trained by ITF (International Tennis Federation) coach Balachandran Manikkath.