India's Rohan Bopanna reacts during the men's doubles final with Australia's Matthew Ebden against Italy's Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori Image Credit: Reuters

A month in and 2024’s fairy tale has already been scripted. Rohan Bopanna’s win at the Australian Open with his doubles partner Matthew Ebden was not just epic, it was also the gold standard of legendary rebirths.

Not only has the tennis player won his first doubles grand slam at the beautiful age of 43, but he is also the new world no 1 in men’s doubles taking one for the team in a cosmos ruled by conspiracy theories of ageism. Sometimes when it rains, it pours.

Most of all, Bopanna’s win is almost earthy in its all-encompassing life lesson — one of many — that perseverance pays for the tide will change. Not much comes easy he tells us through his long career, to want something badly is to go beyond millennial-isms and stick to discipline the old way.

It is Bopanna’s first doubles win after playing in 60 Grand Slams and his only other grand slam victory came in 2017 when he won the mixed doubles at the French Open. “After years of sacrifice and hard work, this moment feels like so much weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” he says.

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Bopanna has the last laugh

Attuned to celebrating a 20-year-old Alcarez or a 25- year-old Mbappe, Bopanna’s heroics at the Australian Open have come as a breath of fresh air especially when the old warhorse, Nadal- who promptly congratulated him- eyes the twilight.

Perhaps the younger generation is baffled by it, and it does defy the unofficial rules of game, yet a man in his fourth decade has had the last laugh on a sporting arena. When young aspiring players are given examples to follow, Bopanna’s name will be on the top.

To become the oldest player to ever win a grand slam — breaking the record of 40-year-old French Open winner Jean-Julien Rojer — needed him to be fallible and he didn’t hide it, “A couple of years ago, I remember sending (my wife) a video message saying I am going to call it a day.

There are miles to go

I went five months without winning a match. But that perseverance inside me kept me going.” Digging in wasn’t easy, clichés like ‘fine wine’ don’t do justice to a fight that took both body and soul.

It is an athlete’s life when injuries become the other opponent — Bopanna plays with a knee that has no cartilage and says it is completely worn-out making endurance training an athlete’s hallmark, tough.

From a player who began his professional career in 2003, another mantra for all times, nothing is written in stone. Evolving and playing with the cards dealt, he switched to practicing Yoga, seriously. At times the game is about just hanging in.

Bopanna’s entry into Indian tennis came when the much-publicised duo of Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes were making headlines on and off the court. Younger but not as flamboyant as the other two, his journey is a sobering reminder that the woods are dark and lonely and there are miles to go, without any shortcuts.

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A double-edged sword

Along with badminton doubles champions Chirag Shetty and Satwik Rankireddy who became the first Indian pair to become world no 1, Bopanna has not just taken doubles play — looked down as singles’ poor cousin — into something aspirational, he has also added another nail into a country’s mindset that celebrates cricket at the expense of all other disciplines.

Success in sport is a double-edged sword. A question hovers in the background, when is it a good time to call it a night, admitting it is the last hurrah? To not fix what isn’t broken or to leave at the top, on your own terms is not an easy answer for athletes who sacrifice long years, their youth, in pursuit of glory.

Do they wait to be put out to pasture while fans — not the kindest in India, shrug, questioning even the likes of Sachin Tendulkar for leaving it way past his prime. For Bopanna though it could just be a new beginning.

Cliché or not, age is just a number, the player told us by showing how to not give up. “Of course, by now, I’m sure a lot of you know my age,” he remarked on court after the final. “But I’ve changed it now. I like to say I’m at level 43, not age 43.”

Rohan Bopanna is the man who changed the bar. People with greying beard and sprinkles of white hair wondering if they are way past their sell out dates only have to look at him and pause. It is not just about tennis.

More than the win, his biggest legacy will be how he hammered home the point. Bopanna knows it too. “I don’t think just in tennis. People all over the world, being 40 and above, I think it’s just going to inspire them in a different way.”