The novel coronavirus has brought life to a standstill across the world. The sporting world too, with tournaments cancelled, seasons suspended and athletes bound by the same rules of isolation as the rest of us. ESPN talks to Indian athletes, cooped up in homes or training camps, on their changed routines, with calendars scrambled, competitions on hold and plenty of time on hand.
India's top-ranked men's squash player
How has your training been affected?
I returned to India a week ago from England, where I was playing the Canary Wharf Classic. I've been under self isolation since then. That means that I've to stay at home and away from public places for fourteen days. So my dad can go to the squash club but I have to stay at home. That seems a little strange because my dad is in contact with me everyday.
There's not much to do. There's only so much you can hit the ball against the wall. You kind of need a side wall, since we use that a lot more in squash to fade the ball in. I came back on the 11th, so its another week that I can't go to the club. For the next week, I'll just do a lot of physical work. I've got a lawn outside my house, so I do exercise there. Maybe in the next week, I'll do some quick reaction volleys against the front wall in my house but that's something I'd get bored of doing every day.
Have you ever had to miss tournaments in the past due to factors not in your control?
The only time I'd been in a situation where I couldn't travel due to factors out of my control was when there were events in Pakistan and I couldn't go there. Otherwise, apart from injuries, I can't think of missing a tournament.
What's it like missing your usual training routine?
More than missing your normal training set up, it's about missing what you do daily. It's a jolt to your routine. It gets hard when you have to adjust. Of course, there are times, when the season ends and before summer training, where I'd have a couple of weeks off and I wouldn't play squash then. But even then, I'm aware of the fact that I have a break. I know I have to take the first couple of weeks off in June and then I have 10 weeks before I start my season.
Right now, we are supposed to start in May but we don't know if we are actually going to start in May. All the training we are doing right now, is not with the knowledge that there is some point at which we will be returning. It's not looking too bright. It could mean the season is completely done. If I had three weeks off I'd plan a certain way, with seven weeks I'll do a certain way. Right now no one knows. More than the physical, it's about mental adapting. It's a fine balance you need to strike.
What's your training regimen looking like right now?
We are just trying to maintain what we have. Obviously gyms are shut so we need to get creative. We are doing what we can. My trainer is figuring out stuff that I can do at home or in the lawn. We are doing whatever we can to be at the best possible stage in order to get ready. I have to change things up in what I'm doing. In the lawns I'll do shuttle runs. I'll do a lot of bodyweight and strength work as well. I'm going to order a few weights as well.
Are you having more cheat days since you aren't actively preparing for a competition?
It's important to be physically and mentally fresh when you return. Of course, since I have seven weeks, I'm going to indulge. My weak link is desserts. I'm a healthy eater but desserts are my weak link. I'm going to have a lot more of them now.
What sort of hobbies are you indulging in?
Right now, you can't do anything. You are basically sitting at home and watching TV or on the computer. I might do a little bit of baking but that's about it. I'm going to try to make a dessert. A chocolate pudding. My mom has made one before but it's the first time I'm trying. I've done a little bit of baking as well. I don't think my mom will have too much of a problem. If I make too much of a mess, we can always get it cleaned .
What are you watching these days?
I'm watching The Crown. I'm a bit behind my wife, but I think I'll catch up with her. With the time I've got left, hopefully I'll be done with the third season. I'm watching this docu-series on the Mossad. There are a few Hindi movies I haven't watched like Article 15. There's this new Netflix movie called Guilty that's apparently pretty good. I've been told that Contagion is pretty relevant right now, so I'm hoping to watch that too.
What's your worst-case scenario with this situation?
I'm 33 now and 34 in August. I have a limited time left in my career. If I'm not playing, that likely helps to elongate my career a bit more but it's not like I'll playing till I'm forty. I'm just hoping we can find a way to contain this issue and I can get back to playing. That's a very personal wish but overall it's more important that the world gets a handle on the situation. Things wouldn't be at this level if things weren't pretty bad.
Following the outbreak, what's the most paranoid thing you've done to keep yourself safe?
It's not really paranoid but I'm definitely washing my hands a lot more. Maybe before, by my estimate, I used to wash them for about seven or eight seconds. Now I'm trying to follow that 20 second rule. I'm not singing any song but I'm consciously washing hands for longer. I'm not shaking hands with people either.
If you could swap lives with any sportsperson for a day, who would it be and why?
I'd like to swap with Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal. They play racquet sports like me, although it is a different dynamic. And they compete all year round like us. I'd like to see how they were coping with it. How they were staying fit. How their normal day was so I could see how they'd prepare when they do start once again.