EXCLUSIVE: Rohan Bopanna explains how yoga ‘has made a huge difference’ to him
Ask Rohan Bopanna if he intends to be back at Wimbledon next year and the 43-year-old Indian insists: “I don’t see why not.” The oldest player competing in singles or doubles at the All England Club this summer, Bopanna is still a formidable competitor, as he showed in reaching the men’s doubles semi-finals with Matthew Ebden.
Yet four years ago Bopanna was wondering how much further he could push his creaking body. With the cartilages in his knees worn out, the former world No 3 was taking pain-killers every day. It was the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic early in 2020 – or more specifically the ensuing hiatus that was forced upon international tennis – that gave him the opportunity to do something about his physical condition.
“In our calendar year there is hardly any time to do anything different, but that break gave me four months to really try something,” Bopanna said. “My cousin was a yoga teacher and she said to me: ‘In your condition what you need is Iyengar yoga.’ So I went and tried it out and it made a huge difference. I was doing 90-minute sessions three times a week.”
Iyengar yoga, which uses props such as blocks and ropes, focuses on the structural alignment of the body. In Bopanna’s case it helped to strengthen the muscles around his knees and take the load off his joints.
“I’ve strengthened my quads, my hamstrings, my glutes, everything,” he said. “There’s no pressure on the knees, which is good for me, because right now the knees are bone to bone. Every time I lose muscle I feel the pain.
“Yoga in general is so much better for my body. It’s aligning my body and I feel my mental strength has also increased, because I really feel that I have time now on the court. I don’t get rushed into situations. I play more calmly. That has changed in a big way for me.
“The yoga teachers I have in Bangalore travelled with me for a couple of weeks to try to understand things more. I was doing yoga when I came back home, but I wanted to know what I should be doing before and after my matches while I was on tour.”
He added: “I’ve also changed my routine completely to work out exactly what works for me. Some days I may not even practise. The biggest thing for me is to keep representing my country. That’s my passion. I hope somebody back home in India might be inspired by what I do. That’s how I picked up tennis, watching a few Indian players. We need to have representation in these big events.”
Bopanna, who made his senior All England Club debut 15 years ago, has missed only one Wimbledon since 2010, having chosen to skip the tournament last summer. “I didn’t come because there were no ranking points and the [men’s doubles] matches were over the best of five sets – not the best thing for my body,” he said.
“At this stage of my career I’m very happy it’s now just three sets. It’s not just about playing. It’s about recovering, because in doubles there’s no guarantee that you’ll have a day off between matches.”
Bopanna won the mixed doubles at Roland Garros (alongside Gabriela Dabrowski) in 2017, but has never won a Grand Slam title in men’s doubles, though he was runner-up at the US Open in 2010 with Aisam Ul-Haq Qureshi.
The loss at Wimbledon this year to Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski, the eventual champions, was the third time Bopanna has lost in the All England Club semi-finals. Partnering Edouard Roger-Vasselin, he lost to the Bryan brothers in five sets at the penultimate hurdle in 2013. Two years later Bopanna and Florin Mergea went down at the same stage to Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau, who took the fifth set 13-11.
This year, nevertheless, Bopanna has shown that he can still be a contender for the biggest honours. He and Ebden arrived at the All England Club as the third most successful men’s pair in the world in 2023, having already won titles in Indian Wells and Doha. “As long as I’m in with a chance of winning tournaments I’m happy to keep on playing,” Bopanna said.
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