No Cartilage, No Problem For History-Making 43-Year-Old Bopanna
In April 2021, Rohan Bopanna was wondering why he was still playing tennis. The Indian star had just lost a match in Estoril with Alexander Bublik. He had lost all seven matches he had played to start the season and won only one set.
“I was sitting near the ocean and I was telling myself, ‘What am I even doing? I’m not even winning matches, I have a family at home. Should I just call it a day and just go back?’” Bopanna told ATPTour.com. “Our daughter was four years old right now and I thought, ‘Why not? Let’s do that.’”
Instead, Bopanna continued on and is playing some of the best tennis of his career. On Thursday, the 43-year-old became the oldest Grand Slam doubles finalist in the Open Era. Bopanna and Matthew Ebden will play Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury Friday for the US Open title.
The Indian has won five ATP Masters 1000 titles with five different partners, but never a men’s doubles trophy at a major. Not bad for someone with no cartilage in his knees.
“It’s worn out completely. It’s just worn out. It’s not a tear. Both my knees have no cartilage and in 2019 I was on two, three painkillers a day,” Bopanna said. “[In] 2020 I started Iyengar yoga, and that actually made a tremendous difference. I went from two, three painkillers a day to no painkillers today. I think the only time sometimes I take an anti-inflammatory is from playing two matches a day. At that time the body says, ‘Hello, please slow down, you still have no cartilage.’”
Bopanna became interested in Iyengar yoga during the Covid-19 pandemic, when professional tennis was suspended. He did 90-minute sessions four times a week.
“It really made the difference,” Bopanna explained. “I said ‘Okay’. Then when I started playing, I felt pain-free. And then that was a whole new ballgame.”
Today, the 24-time tour-level doubles titlist does a shorter period of yoga in the morning.
“I think the yoga kind of helped align the body better, helped the mind as well [stay] calmer,” Bopanna said. “And then having the right team, I’ve had Scott Davidoff traveling with me for 12, 13 years now and that has made a huge difference to understand how I’m playing. I’ve invested in myself in terms of bringing a good physio on board this year. Last year, I didn’t have that.”
Bopanna in January began working with Rebecca Van Orshaegen, a Belgian physio. Everything together has helped him compete at the highest level. Bopanna and Ebden will climb to first place in the Pepperstone ATP Live Doubles Teams Rankings if they win the US Open title.
Bopanna reached his first major final at the 2010 US Open alongside Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi. Since then, he has competed at the Nitto ATP Finals three times with three different partners, and at Roland Garros in 2017 captured the mixed doubles crown with Gabriela Dabrowski. But when he steps on court Friday, he will be playing in his first men’s doubles major final in 13 years.
“I definitely believe that I am playing much better right now. Because I think over the years, playing with various different partners brought in so much experience, learning from especially when I was starting my career, when I started with Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, then I played with Mahesh Bhupathi a lot. I played with Daniel Nestor a lot,” Bopanna said. “So I learned I felt so much from them, which I could bring in over the years to my journey and today I don’t feel rushed on the court.
“Initially, I feel that I’m much calmer. And then I can think much better and that just kind of really enhanced the game. Earlier in the day, I used to do a lot of serve and volley, now I don’t do that as much. Obviously that is due to the physical conditions of having no cartilage on my knees in order to change that up.”
Cartilage or not, Bopanna is flying high. And with his wife and daughter by his side, the Indian star is excited to try to bring his family his biggest trophy yet.
“I’m extremely proud. Anytime there’s a record set, I get it. But it is not something I’m focussed on, like looking to get or something,” Bopanna said. “If it happens along the way, yes, extremely happy with it. But the pure goal when I play is to go win the match, win the tournament, and that is it.”