Sometime in the 1990s, tennis legend Pete Sampras suffered yet another loss in the French Open—the only major tournament he never won in his career. A reporter asked him if he planned to stay on in Paris.
“Why? To see the Eiffel Tower?” Sampras replied.
The answer illustrated a couple of things. Athletes can be hilariously curt after a loss. And sightseeing is not a priority for most of them.
P.V. Sindhu spent nearly two weeks in Rio de Janeiro during the 2016 Olympics, where she won the silver medal and gave India one of its proudest moments in sports. Here’s the sum total of the number of times she went to Copacabana beach or to the Christ the Redeemer statue—zero.
But while athletes are not sight-seers, they are undeniably travellers. And at times, they get a chance to see the local attractions. While Sampras had no interest in joining some queue populated by fanny-packers in Paris, Sindhu has often been atop the Eiffel Tower. “We go there every year during the French Open and have crepes,” says the disarming, giggly 22-year-old in an interview minutes after a practice session.
There are sports people who hate travel, there are those who enjoy it. What about you?
I enjoy it, even though there is not much time for sightseeing.
What are your memories of your first international tour?
It was for the under-15 Asian Championships in Brunei. I was about 14, and on my first long journey. We flew from Hyderabad to Delhi and then to Brunei. I was part of a team and we were so excited, we barely slept on the flight. We just watched movies. After landing in Brunei, everything felt totally different. We saw the Sultan’s palace and interacted with players from other countries.
What did you learn about yourself from the trip?
Even though I had teammates with me, I had no one from home. Nowadays, I travel with my parents. But on that trip, I learnt to be alert and careful as I was on my own. For example, sometimes you doze off when you are travelling, but I avoided that. I guess I learnt to take care of myself.
How do you overcome jet lag?
I’m used to it. We usually reach the host city three days in advance. So there’s enough time to adjust to the local clock. And we immediately start practicing. That helps.
Do you pack quickly? Do you travel light?
(Laughs) I can’t travel light. My bag is always heavy. I pack myself and I try to finish my packing the previous night.
What do you buy when you travel?
I like to shop—clothes, bags, sunglasses, footwear, whatever I like. In Rio, I bought souvenirs like t-shirts and keychains for friends.
We sometimes want to go to places we have seen in films or a show. Any place you are keen to visit due to its portrayal in a film or show?
Italy and Greece. I haven’t been there but from what I have seen about those places, I think I would like them. There is a lot of history there. I also like Italian food.
If you could choose anyone to travel with, who would it be?
My elder sister Divya. I’m close to her. She’s a doctor and stays in Hyderabad. So she’s busy. Once, she accompanied me to a tournament in Sydney. We went shopping, and to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and things like that. That was fun.
What do you eat when you travel?
I like Italian, Indian and Asian food. During tournaments, we go to Indian restaurants once or twice. But most of the time it’s Italian and Asian. I love biryani. Naturally, I can have it only once in a while.
If you wanted to take a break from badminton and go on a vacation, would you choose a beach destination or one with mountains?
I don’t think I have ever been on a vacation (laughs). There is no time. The only time I switch off badminton is during lifestyle photo shoots. You have to get ready and wear all these clothes and let another side come through. If I had the chance, I would pick a destination that that has greenery and a beach.
You spend a lot of time in hotels. Are you choosy about them? What do you like in a hotel?
I like big hotels with nice big rooms. All the services should be available. As a sportsperson, a good gym and a swimming pool are important. The way you are received should be warm. I also like flowers in my room, though it’s not a pre-condition. When I came back home from Rio, it was full of flowers. I was like ‘Yay!’
A big part of travel is airports. And most of them are quite nice these days. Do you enjoy spending time at airports?
Oh yes. If it’s a long halt, I like to look at the shops and maybe go to the spa.
You have played all over the world. What are the best sights you have seen so far?
We had the World Championships in Glasgow this year. It is a beautiful city, though very cold. We went out for lunch and a bit of shopping. In Dubai, I enjoyed a desert safari. I also want to see Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi at some point.
Anything else on the wishlist?
I want to go skydiving someday.