The Perfect Match

What it means to be a star sportsman's wife – especially during a nail-biting contest? Kausalya Santhanam talks to Arti Sehwag, Rhea Pillai and Aruna Anand

Updated - April 27, 2011 04:43 pm IST

Published - April 27, 2011 04:00 pm IST

Viswanathan Anand and Aruna. Photo: M. Karunakaran

Viswanathan Anand and Aruna. Photo: M. Karunakaran

The World Cup 2011 final is on. Flags waving, crowds cheering — the excitement rides sky high. But in just the first few overs two of the star batsmen are out. There is pin drop silence as thousands of spectators react with stunned disbelief. The aspirations of a billion Indians seem to go for a fall as the batsmen walk back to the pavilion. The tension is palpable. For the onlookers, the identification with the player and the game is enormous. But what about the ones closest to the players emotionally – their wives who are with them through good times and bad? What do they go through when their partner is engaged in the big fight? What does life with the champion mean?

A chat with the star wives of three leading players, in cricket, chess and tennis – the spouses who score with their support:

Arti Sehwag (wife of Virender Sehwag): I'm not always present when he plays. But I attended all three crucial matches during this World Cup – the quarter-final, the semi-final and the final. It was the dream of every player to win the Cup. And when we did, it was an extraordinary moment for me and the wives of the other players. We just kept looking at one another's faces, stunned and delighted! It is always a proud moment when Viru does well; I feel worse than he when he does not. I always pray to Shirdi Sai Baba; I even fight with him when things don't go well.

When Viru got out in the India- Pakistan match at Mohali, my son (who is three-and-a-half) started crying. He kept asking, “Why did papa get out?” It was a very bad moment for me. I know Viru from childhood. Fame has not changed him. He has no airs and is so entertaining. When he went through a bad patch (he was not in the team for some time), it was really difficult for me, especially since I was expecting my first child at that time. But I believe that in order to support your partner, you have to be always positive. It is certainly very stressful to be the wife of a successful player. I have to look after the home and the children without his constant presence and involvement. Also the school, hostel and sports academy we have set up have to be taken care of. But overall it is wonderful for you; you get a lot of respect. The fact he is serving the nation is a lovely feeling for the mother, wife and other family members.

Aruna Anand (wife of Viswanathan Anand): I have been with him for 90 percent of the matches he has played during the past 12 years. You can't help being nervous as the stakes are high for the World Championship in Chess and it means training for 10 to 12 hours every day for one year. It gets very personal for me. The 2010 World Championship in Bulgaria was very conflictive. Playing in their own country is an advantage for home players, but sometimes those from outside have to face hostility. Just as we were leaving for Sofia, the volcano erupted in Iceland and flights were cancelled. We reached Sofia, exhausted after a 40-hour bus journey. It was a 12 match event – Anand and his opponent were even till the last game. Both of us went for a walk on the evening before the decisive 12th game and we could almost hear our hearts beating. When he won, it took some time for it to sink in. For me, the feeling was one of extreme relief more than anything else. Anand is very pragmatic and even when things don't go well, he will to the gym and then start to work on his chess. When a player loses, it is worse for the wife than for him. When he is in a bad position, journalists and other players try to rub it in and you have to face it coolly and calmly. As for feedback, one keeps one's eyes and ears open, and then there is the woman's intuition. Most people think it is very glamorous to be the wife of a well-known sportsperson. But the other face of sport is the constant struggle. Every result matters. Anand has had every achievement; he does not compare chess or himself to any other sport or sportsman.

Rhea Pillai (wife of Leander Paes): No, I'm not present at all his matches, especially now since our daughter Aiyana is in school. If the match is a close one, you are bound to get tense. But I love sport; I was an athlete and for me it's a high. I love to interact with other sportsmen and their families. My daughter, who is six, is most interested in the game and knows who's who in the field. I was familiar with tennis before I married Leander but did not know the game as well as I do now. I feel on top of the world, now that he and Mahesh Bhupathi are ranked No.1 team in 2011 ATP World Tour Doubles. Do I offer feedback after the match? Who am I to offer suggestions? I don't know the game so well. Friendship with the spouse is the basis of a good relationship. When you both have the same goal, you are headed in the same direction and are in a good place. When he won the mixed doubles at the U.S. Open in 2008, it was very memorable for me. But there have been so many matches over the years. A sportsman's life is wonderful. It is a clean lifestyle with a strict diet and rigorous schedules. I don't see any minuses in being a sportsman's wife. I teach The Art of Living and a big part of my time is taken up by that. Politics or intrigues in the sport? Not as I see it. There is competitiveness of course. I enjoy the whole arc. But then the relationship with your spouse should be good. If it is not, how are you going to enjoy it at all?

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