Photo : Lucas Dawson/Getty Images
Welcome to a brand-new content series on the official National Bank Open presented by Rogers website. Our events in Toronto and Montreal have hosted the world’s best players year after year, with some of the biggest names having claimed the title.
In our Champions’ Locker Room series, we’ll interview some of the past winners of our tournaments about their memories of their run to the trophy in Canada. This series is available to National Bank Open Insider subscribers one week early – so, to be among the first to read it, sign up to our newsletter now.
Tied with the Bryan Brothers as the most decorated men’s doubles player to ever set foot on the Toronto and Montreal courts, Mahesh Bhupathi has more than a few fond memories of his five National Bank Open presented by Rogers titles.
After becoming the first Indian to win a Grand Slam event at the 1997 French Open, Bhupathi quickly emerged as one of the most successful doubles players of all time. Not long after his first Grand Slam title, he won his first Masters Series event – in Canada – which he credits to the boost of confidence he got from making history in Paris.
“Obviously, it was the start of something special being the first Indian to be able to win a Grand Slam Open event,” Bhupathi said. “It just gave me a lot of confidence to believe that I could play at that level because, at the time, I was not ranked high. That confidence turned it around for me. I won my first Masters Series in Canada that summer and things kept getting better and better – which was great.”
Bhupathi’s five National Bank Open titles were played with four different partners and spanned from 1997-2009. Interestingly, the Indian believes his fourth title – the ‘improbable’ win in 2007 with Pavel Vizner – was the most memorable.
“I mean the first one was special, but the year I won with Pavel Vizner, I mean that was kind of out of the blue,” Bhupathi recalled. “When I won with Max (Max Mirnyi) or when I won with Knowlesy (Mark Knowles), we were full-time teams and we were expecting to come into every tournament with a chance to win. But the year I played with Vizner, it was just unexpected you know – I didn’t have a partner he didn’t have a partner – and we scraped through a lot of matches. I think that was the big one. That was Vizner’s first and only Masters win, so you know it’s special for him as well.”
In 2007, the duo won their final against Paul Hanley and Kevin Ullyett in straight sets, but Bhupathi recalls the road to the finals being a hard-fought affair. They needed a super tiebreak against compatriots Leander Paes and Martin Damm in the quarter-finals and another one in the semi-finals against the top-seeded Bryan Brothers. They eventually ousted them 6-2, 4-6, 12-10.
“When you are playing in the format we play in doubles, you want to try and win in two sets because the big final, the super tiebreak is tough,” Bhupathi explained. “I remember that match (against the Bryan Brothers), it was the night match actually, and I remember the hard-fought super tiebreaker.”
Although a late duel against the Bryan Brothers meant an early finals match the next day (that he eventually won), Bhupathi had nothing but good things to say about the night matches in Canada.
“For doubles guys, we love playing the night matches because it’s kind of showtime right. And I mean, Canada loves doubles because of the history of Daniel Nestor and Sebastien Lareau, so they understand it and it’s always a great atmosphere.”
The National Bank Open will always hold a special place in Bhupathi’s heart. It’s where he found the most success at the ATP Masters 1000 level, winning five times and never losing in the finals. He credits the hard courts because the quicker surface suited his powerful game, but he also recognizes the tremendous support he got from friends and fans in Toronto and Montreal.
“I loved the event in Canada,” Bhupathi said with a smile. “I just loved the fact that we had a lot of Indian support and for me, I had friends in both Toronto and Montreal, so it kind of felt a lot like home. You know, friends would come to cheer me on, I’d be out in the evening with them at movies or dinners. Canada just gave me that sense that I literally was playing at home.”