A Day With: Indian snooker star Pankaj Advani

Denzil Pinto 05:54 09/06/2016
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  • Golden Boy: Indian billiard player Pankaj Advani.

    When it comes to the Asian snooker scene, Pankaj Advani is certainly up there among the familiar names. His achievements includes two Asian Games golds as well as the Six Reds Asian Championship title that he won in Abu Dhabi last month.

    Add to that 10 world billiards titles and you can see why he’s earned the nickname ‘The Golden Boy’.

    The 30-year-old Indian spoke to Sport360 about his career highlights, why he feels India needs to do more to support the game and why he’s a big fan of Roger Federer.

    There are a lot of the talented Asian cueists, do you think they can be a threat to the European-based events in the future?

    It’s very difficult for Asians to go to UK and make a mark. I’m not saying it’s impossible because you have players like me and a lot from China.

    (Australia’s) Neil Robertson came out from nowhere and was able to do it. I feel if we had tournaments over the world and were more global, it would make a huge difference and would see Asian players reaching the last-32 and last-16 stages.

    We have the talent but it’s very difficult.

    You reached the 2013 Welsh Open becoming the first Indian to reach the quarterfinals. How do you look back at that achievement and experience?

    It was fantastic. The kind of reception that I got when I reached the quarter-finals was amazing, eventually losing to Judd Trump. To reach that stage, I had to defeat two former world champions in Shaun Murphy and Graeme Dott.

    I wish we had that type of environment in India where 500 people are watching the game live and cheering you on. The whole set-up in the arena was simply electrifying and it really brought out the best in me. I wish I could have more of those moments as that’s what we live for.

    Out of both of those victories over the two ex-world champions, what was more special?

    Shaun Murphy as he was the man in form. He played extremely well in that match. I almost lost the game because I was 3-1 up and squandered that lead for him to 3-3 and then I played some tactical snooker, trying some clever shots.

    The spectators were aware that I had technical abilities so that has to be my most special win in that tournament.

    Among your achievements are two Asian Games gold medals. Would you like to make it a hat-trick before your retire?

    I don’t know if we’ll be there in the next edition but would love to be there. It was a great feeling to win in 2006 and 2010 as it was really special. It’s a different kind of pressure and it’s very much like the Olympic and Commonwealth Games. It’s about rising to the occasion.

    Everyone has a technique but on the day itself, it’s about handling your nerves. You don’t have to play exceptionally well but just have to make sure you keep calm and don’t crank up the pressure.

    I always feel that in India, they put a lot of pressure on the athletes to perform in big events because we tend to give them more importance. But I don’t see it that way.

    I’ve always treated each tournament equally and the world championships is no different to an event that is held every four years. It’s all about consistency at the end of the day.

    Do you feel India is giving enough support for snooker?

    There has been progress in that department in the sense that oil companies and rail companies are showing their support while the Indian snooker federation is also doing a great job because they’ve started introducing more tournaments. But I still believe that more can be done from the private sector for the game.

    Do you think the inaugural Cue Slam (similar to IPL) is the answer to that?

    Yes definitely. My hopes are on that. That’s the first reflection of our game to the country. If it’s advertised well, packaged well, the commentary is good and the format is a success while delivering a high quality tournament, then it could take us to the next level.

    At the moment, I think people have really not understood the sport in terms of how much effort we put in and the kind of achievements that we’ve done. I don’t think they understand the significance of our achievements.

    I’m not saying this with bitterness but stating this as a matter of fact. We have worked really hard and it requires a lot of concentration. Awareness of the game and television coverage is crucial in raising the popularity of the game.

    Hero: Roger Federer.

    Hero: Roger Federer.

    I feel that if the Cue Slam can take off and be a success then it will give people a better understanding of what we do and how we do it.

    Do you hope to inspire more people to play snooker in India?

    It’s up to them really. All I can do is perform and take the game higher and higher. All of us have that responsibility to make sure we are inspiring the younger people. But I think times are changing and people are accepting snooker and many other disciplines in sport in India as a full-time career option.

    When there is an Asian Games or Olympics, people go crazy but what happens after that? It has to be more sustained and more consistent. When we have people following the sport, tournament-by-tournament, and have a proper calendar, then we can have more full-time players.

    Is the 6-reds a format you enjoy playing or do you prefer the traditional 15-reds?

    Yes very much so. I believe if you want to make this sport more spectator-friendly, then 6-reds is the way to go.

    With the 15-reds, while it really involves a lot of skills and generally the better players come out on top, I feel it can get very long and boring. But this format is much quicker and the results can get more unpredictable. I hope this becomes a popular format especially for those people who want to watch the game on television.

    Who is your role model?

    Roger Federer. I’m a huge fan of him. He has it all with his style, elegance, you name it, he’s got it. For me, he’s the complete champion.

    There are certain players in sport that you just have to appreciate for the kind of style and grace they bring to the sport. That’s ideally how you want to play a sport. He is majestic.

    Not everyone has that ability to attract thousands. Even if you’re not a Federer fan, you will enjoy watching him play because he’s so smooth.