Rohan Bopanna was dealt not one but two blows today as he crashed out in the first round of the men's doubles at the Australian Open. The pair of Bopanna and Yasutaka Uchiyama lost to the Bryan brothers of the USA 1-6, 6-3, 3-6, in a closely fought encounter.
Prior to his first round encounter, he was forced to change his mixed doubles partner as Sania Mirza pulled out due to an injury to her calf.
"I was supposed to play mixed doubles with Sania but that's not happening now as she hurt her calf. I had to change partners at the last minute and now I'll be playing with Sania's doubles partner, Nadiia Kichenok. This happened today as the cut for mixed doubles closed at 4 pm."
This is not the first time Sania Mirza has struggled with calf problems. The former world No 1 doubles player, who is making a comeback to the sport after more than two years, battled against the odds to win the title at Hobart just last week. However, she did struggle a bit with her calf in the final of the tournament as well.
Whether Sania will be playing her doubles encounter is still not confirmed. However, she is scheduled to play her match at 11 am on Thursday and has not pulled out of the tournament yet.
"I don't know how she's feeling for the women's doubles. I just know that she did not want to push her injury much and she pulled out of mixed doubles. For the women's doubles, it all depends on how she's feeling," he said.
Bopanna was also full of praise for Sania's amazing comeback to the sport and hailed her win at Hobart as "fantastic"
Inexperience with new partner and conditions led to loss, says Bopanna
Speaking about his doubles encounter in the first round of the first Grand Slam of the year, Bopanna felt that it was the inexperience of playing together with Uchiyama coupled with the almost apocalyptic windy conditions of Melbourne which led to their loss in the first round.
"For us, we are playing for the very first time against such an experienced team and the conditions were not easy at all as well. That's where it helps playing with someone you know. There are situations where you don't know who's going for the ball, whether it's you or your partner.
The Bryans played smart as well, hitting a few lob returns and it's not easy to hit overheads when the wind is moving at over 30 kmph."
However, there were a few positives for the Indian during his first round encounter. The Indo-Japanese duo made a great comeback in the second set and took the match to a decider. They also had a few chances in the final set but squandered those opportunities. In the end, the Bryan brothers broke at a crucial moment in the penultimate game to win the match.
"We came back pretty well and had a chance at 1-2, 0-30 but we did not take it," said Bopanna.
The veteran 39-year-old has not had great luck with his choice of partners this time at the Australian Open. Before Sania pulling out, Canada's Denis Shapovalov had to decline playing doubles with Bopanna this time around.
"Unfortunately, Denis decided to pull out last minute and now Sania got hurt, so there's no option to make these last minute changes and hope for the best," said Bopanna.
Bopanna had played quite a few tournaments with Denis Shapovalov last year and had notched up a few decent results with the young Canadian, including reaching the final of the Stuttgart Open.
Prior to that, he had played with India's Divij Sharan at the beginning of 2019 but was forced to change partners before the Indian Wells Masters as they did not have enough ranking points together as a team.
"I started off playing with Divij at the beginning of last year but by the time we got to Indian Wells, we didn't have the points to get in. Then, whether it is you play a tournament or you change partners. So, I had no option but to change partners," he said.
While Bopanna now only has the mixed doubles tournament to look forward to, fellow Indian Divij Sharan began his campaign on a positive note. Partnering alongside Artem Sitak, the pair won their first round encounter against the experienced Pablo Carreno-Busta and Joua Sousa in straight sets.
Sitak and Sharan made a great comeback in the second set, being 2-5 down to win five games on the trot to eventually win the set and the match.
"It was a great match against tough opponents and we did well. I had lost to Carreno-Busta last year and it's been a good start to the year. We were down a break in the second set but we took our opportunities and in the end, it was a good result for us. We were confident coming into this tournament and have been working a lot together and work on our strengths," said Sharan after his first round win.
For now, Bopanna and Sharan are both looking to improve their rankings in the next few months in order to qualify for the Olympics, which take place later this year in Tokyo.
"Our goal right now is to first qualify for men's doubles first because the rule that we can't just go for mixed doubles. We need to focus on that and Divij and I are both looking to get our ranking high enough so that we can qualify as a team together," said Bopanna.