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.
World No 31, men's table tennis
Following the outbreak, what's the most paranoid thing you've done to keep yourself safe?
I've actually been pretty calm about the whole thing so far. Of course, I cancelled my travel plans recently to tournaments like the Oman Open because it just didn't seem safe. Other than that, I've been doing regular things like wearing a mask and sanitising my hands. It's the new normal.
What's your biggest fear right now?
The uncertainty. You don't know what's in store. I'm right now at the peak of my career and I really want to be there at the Olympics. We could deal with a postponement of the Games, if it does come to that. But a scenario where the Games are called off would be my and almost any sportsperson's worst nightmare.
Has your training been affected in any way?
Lots of things thrown off gear. You can't go to Europe to train or have foreign players come over to India to spar. Gyms are shut so you have to make your own arrangements. In the current scenario with so many people affected globally and deaths being reported every day, sport can take a backseat for now.
If you could watch a match from the past on video while you're stuck at home, which one would it be?
It's hard to pick one. My 2018 Asian Games quarterfinal matches against Japan's (Jin) Ueda and (Kenta) Matsudaira in the team event which brought us that historic medal, my World Cup win against (Simon) Gauzy and the one against Harimoto (Tomokazu) at the Asian Championships last year are also really special ones. I could watch them on loop all day.
Any new hobbies that you've taken up?
I'll be home for the next two months. It's got to be the longest ever break I've got in the last five years. I'm excited. I don't know what to do with so much time on my hands now. Earlier I would catch up with friends when I'm in town, but that's not an option in these times. Sleep is on top of my to-do list. Between travel, tournaments and training I rarely get enough of it. So that should be my newest, most useful hobby.
What are you watching these days?
I've always been a huge movie buff. I watch a lot of sports biographies, particularly. Recently I watched Money Heist on Netflix. Usually, I restrict all my viewing to only flights. But now I've stocked myself up with subscriptions of all streaming platforms so I'm armed for the occasional binge watch session at home.
What about cheat days?
It's easy to be tempted to not follow a strict diet now. But after this lull it's likely to be madness. When tournaments restart, it's going to happen all at once and you don't want to be caught out of shape then. Since I'm at home, it makes being disciplined more natural. My mom knows what I eat. She doesn't give me sweets, chocolates or ice creams. Now that malls are shut and no one really eats out, it means having healthy, home food that you can never tire of. It's a blessing.
What's an advantage of being in a situation like this where everything has come to a standstill?
I don't get to see my mother much usually because of my tournament schedules. But now, I've all the time in the world to laze around at home, let her spoil me with her food and get her to fill me on all the gossip. The other thing I've missed a lot over the past few years is time with my sister and nephew. This is a forced break but I'm liking it so far because of all the family time it's giving me.
If you could swap lives with any sportsperson for a day who would it be and why?
Roger Federer. I'm a huge fan. It would be a dream to just be so elegant in one's sport and experience the kind of love he gets wherever he goes.