Tennis is my life. I live it, I love it. As such, I am constantly amused why people keep wondering about my retirement plans. I have no plans to quit; I just don't feel the need to.
The other regular poser is how I manage to keep winning at my age. I am 38 now and I can tell you that I will keep on playing till the time the heart has the desire, the legs the juice and I manage to stay injury-free.People see me winning on court, they don't know the years of toil to ensure continued excellence over two decades. The back room sweat is mine, but I am glad that my achievements are for all of India to savour.
You know what, as I speak, I am actually in the gym stretching out to be ready for my match on Sunday. It's 2.15 in the morning and this is my celebration for completing my career slam!
It's pretty simple in my mind. If you want to be one of the best, you have to make sacrifices.
There has been many a bar where I have sat with my coke and lemon while my buddies downed crates of beer into the wee hours. I head for the nearest open window in case anyone lights up in a room I happen to be in.
You have to be careful all the time about what you eat and just what your food does to your body. For professional athletes, this is a constant pain. But every little bit adds up and every little bit comes back to either spur you or haunt you out on court. For me, it's just a way of life and now I don't even feel that I am giving up on anything.
Longevity comes from disciplined training. Over the years, I have constantly kept varying my routine to keep things interesting and stay motivated. Then, I have been blessed with very good foot speed and eye-hand coordination.
Basically, I see the ball earlier than most people and I reach it far quicker. I have a high percentage of fast-twitch fibres that give me the speed.
I am gifted in that sense but then the power in the legs does not just come from a unique physiology alone. Enough on-court drills and off-court workouts have ensured that I am able to exploit my gift to its optimum level.
An early career decision to switch to doubles is also a reason for the longevity. It has allowed me to pick and choose my tournaments.
Prudence also plays an important part. I have never played on for long when injured and have always ensured proper rehab before coming back on court.
To be a top athlete requires investment in the best brains out there. Over the years I have scoured the world for the greatest of coaches and the best of trainers. I have always been a good student and spending money to gain from the learned has been part of my tennis strategy from my formative years. The trick is that I learn so well, I usually don't ever have to spend on them again!
All in the mind
The most crucial aspect for consistent performance over a long period is the mental dimension. The legs can tire, but if the spirit refuses to cow down, then there really is no age limit for performance, I feel. The birth of my daughter five years ago has also played a big role in motivating me. And Rhea has been a great source of encouragement. From her I learnt to be more in touch with my spiritual side - that has also added to the mental strength.
Controversy and celebrity status may go hand in hand but I figured long ago to let my racquet do the talking and after that let history speak for itself.