As the Pune Pistons team bus lurches through morning rush hour on the citys clogged roads,players on the bus show varying levels of irritation. However,stretched out at the back,his long legs spread over two seats,the 6.1 ft Joachim Fischer-Nielsen shows zen-like calm. Headphones plugged in,the 34-year-old Danish,a 2012 Olympics bronze medalist in mixed doubles,calmly hums along to Coldplay and U2.
Theres more to this nirvana-like state of Fischer-Nielsen. A participant in the Indian Badminton League (IBL),where his performances have played a big role in the Pistons march to the semis,he rises at 7.30 am and starts his day with a spot of meditation. This is followed by a set of stretches. That done,he is one of the first to reach the hotel lobby to depart for practice at 8 am.
Put Fischer-Nielsen on court though,and that calm demeanour vanishes. In practice sessions,which stretch beyond two hours,he constantly berates himself in Danish,screams when a shot goes wide and pummels the net with his racquet when he cant reach a drop. After one particularly error-strewn rally last week,Fischer-Nielsen hit his racquet on the court,stamped on it in anger.
The reason he pushes himself so hard,says the Danish badminton star,is that he knows no other way. I train with Olympic gold medalists and legendary players like Carsten Morgensen,Peter Gade and Jans Jorgensen. Watching them push themselves during practice seems to have rubbed off on me, he says.
Fischer-Nielsen is part of a crop of Danish badminton players who have posed a strong challenge to the Chinese hegemony in the sport. Players like himMorgensen,Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Ryter-Juhlare rated among the top in the world.
In Pune Pistons,Fischer-Nielsen counts Ashwini Ponappa and World No. 3 Julianne Schenk among team-mates. Shweta Manerikar,the physio,says that the Dane is one of the most popular players in the set-up. He is totally involved in the teams preparation. He is a nice guy and knows how to have fun, Manerikar says.
In the bus back to the hotel,around 11 am,Fischer-Nielsen says the frenetic travelling as part of the IBL has given him a new perspective about India. Back home,we have a very set idea about the country. Something like there are very rich people and very poor people,that its a very exotic land and the food is extremely spicy. Since coming here,I have interacted with so many people,seen some amazing things and also eaten quite a bit of food which left me gasping for breath. But its been a good journey, he says.
Pune is itself a far cry from Fischer-Nielsens hometown,the obsessively organised Copenhagen. He stares out of the bus window his mouth agape at motorcycles and cars moving at a frenetic pace,jostling for room. This is just mayhem! he exclaims.
With the Pistons playing the Banga Beats at 8 pm that day,Fischer-Nielsens first priority is to grab lunch when he reaches the hotel. As the Dane piles his plate high with pasta and cold cuts,he directs a wistful look at the dessert counter. Its been two years since I have had proper dessert. I stopped eating sweets and drinking cola for two years before the Olympics. Even after the bronze medal,I havent mustered the courage to help myself to a pastry, he says. The challenge has increased manifold in India,with most hotel buffets laying out rows and rows of goodies.
After lunch,Fischer-Nielsen heads straight for a 45-minute session at the gym. We never train as much as the Chinese,but we Danes make it a point to learn what our bodies need for them to be in top shape, he says.
Before locking himself into his room at around 4.30 pm,Fischer-Nielsen lopes out into the street. He hails an autorickshaw,telling the driver to take him around the city for half an hour. I need to calm myself down before playing a match, he says.
At the packed Balewadi sports complex later though,Fischer-Nielsen shows little of that tension. Partnering Malaysian Kiong Tan Wee,he seals the tie for the Pistons in the mens doubles,winning 21-18,21-18. A loss in the last rubber of the night,the mixed-doubles where he partners Ponappa,doesnt dampen his spirits,as he enthusiastically flashes a thumbs-up.
After the photographs have been clicked,the autographs signed,it is past midnight. Fischer-Nielsen is in no mood to call it a day though. Now I am going to party to make up for all this hard work, he says.