Holding a tennis racket gives me the utmost confidence. It’s been the perfect prop my entire life and it’s given me more than just a normal life. The tennis racket and I go hand in hand. It’s given me things that I would never have dreamt of having. But, more than anything else, it gave me my health. I was very sick as a child and I spent a lot of time in the hospital. Eventually, the doctors advised my parents that I should play an outdoor sport in the hope that the physical activity would help me return to good health.
In India, a country with over a billion people, spending hard-earned money on professional tennis training for a sick child was something most people had no understanding for. But tennis turned things around for me and then I became not only one of the first professional tennis players from India, but actually one of the first ever professionals from India in any sport. I think tennis was my greatest education. It taught me about not just the world, but about myself and what one is able to achieve. Tennis gave me more than I could have ever asked for and my Rolex stands for exactly that. It makes you think of the impossible as nothing.
In 1976 I won the Newport Hall of Fame Tournament in the US and I couldn’t believe I was given this watch along with the prize money. From that moment on, it never came off my wrist. It has stayed with me through thick and thin and 40 years later it is still my favourite possession. In India, you only wear a watch like this if you feel you’ve achieved something. When I got it at 23 years of age, I didn’t think I was old enough to have earned it. I didn’t think I was good enough to have it and the only reason I started to wear it was because I won it and I was so proud of it.
I’ve also been very fortunate in my life to have done several things, one of the highlights of it being appointed Messenger of Peace by Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, alongside legendary boxer Mohammed Ali, Michael Douglas, the actor, Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Laureate, and opera singer Luciano Pavarotti. I was able to see on the ground what difference you can make if you actually set your mind to it. I represented India in the Olympic Games, I carried the Olympic torch, and it was an accolade by the government of India. I think all of these things kind of spur you to do even more, to be able to see what the real world is all about. I think this is exactly why we also started my foundation to be able to help charities in India.
For someone that grew up with bad health, it is a blessing to be wearing something that I won, that I can be proud of for the rest of my life. To this day I ask myself, “How good can you be? Can you come back every night and say to yourself, ‘I didn’t waste this day. I tried very hard to be a better person — whatever that might be?’” So when I look at the watch, I always think, "I hope I deserved it."