Indian Euphoria

Aditya Mehta… making history by reaching the summit clash of the Indian Open.-SANDEEP SAXENA

The £300,000 professional event in New Delhi enhanced the profile of snooker in India in the best possible way. It not only exposed the cue sports fans to some of the best pros on the circuit but also brought out the best from Aditya Mehta and Pankaj Advani, writes Y. B. Sarangi.

For some reason, despite being the home of snooker, India had never been able to make an impact at the professional level so far. The inaugural £300,000 Indian Open, the first-ever professional ranking event in the country, however turned out to be the perfect stage for two prominent Indians, Aditya Mehta and Pankaj Advani, to be in the spotlight.

Known for the exploits of its billiards players, India has witnessed occasional achievements from its amateur snooker players at the elite level. As Advani puts it, “It may be due to the fact that in billiards we have a great tradition, started by Wilson Jones, Michael Ferreira, Geet Sethi and me. There is no such thing in snooker.”

In the highly competitive professional snooker circuit, which had been inaccessible due to its deeply entrenched roots in the United Kingdom, Yasin Merchant made some headway by becoming the first pro from the country. He waged a lone battle for five long years to establish himself, while a few others managed to have an occasional taste of top-level snooker.

Eight-time world billiards champion Pankaj Advani, the first player to win both the world amateur billiards and snooker titles, took the plunge in the 2012-13 season and shone instantly by becoming the first Indian to make it to the last-eight of a ranking snooker event — the Welsh Open.

The Indian Open in New Delhi enhanced the profile of snooker in the country in the best possible way. It not only exposed the cue sports fans to some of the best pros on the circuit but also brought out the best from Mehta and Advani, whose rivalry had mainly been confined to National- and Asian-level tournaments.

When the draw had been made, notwithstanding the presence of six Indian wildcards, it was widely expected that Mehta and Advani would face off in the quarterfinals. Realistically though, the two cueists knew how hard the task would be considering the tough opponents they were likely to face.

It is great time for indian snooker. it is great that we can match these big guys, shot for shot. i am proud that i belong to this league. -- PANKAJ ADVANI-SANDEEP SAXENA

Boosted by the excited home crowd, they gave their best. Mehta shocked former world champions Peter Ebdon and Mark Williams on way to the quarterfinals.

The collective wish of the fans came true as Advani upset world number 27 Marcus Campbell, 11th-ranked Mark Allen and 12th-ranked Stuart Bingham in succession to set up a dream last-eight clash with Mehta.

The all-Indian affair might not have been an entertaining contest, but it was an iconic tussle nonetheless. Mehta and Advani played with rock-solid determination and their emotions well masked, as the intense best-of-seven frames match, featuring an unending exchange of safety games, lasted for four hours and concluded at midnight. Finally, Mehta got the better of an exhausted Advani.

Mehta, 27, took his tight-fisted game a few notches above as he upset world number five and current Welsh Open champion Stephen Maguire in an entertaining semi-final and made history by reaching the summit clash.

However, the fourth-ranked Chinese star, Ding Junhui, proved too good for Mehta in the final. Ding relied on his solid potting skills to build big breaks as he demolished Mehta 5-0 in just two hours to take the winner’s purse of £50,000.

Fine potting skills... Ding Junhui of China with the trophy.-

“It was a lesson learnt for me. I aspire to be like him,” said Mehta, who practises with Ding at the Star Academy in Sheffield.

“I did not have the energy and mental stamina after playing against the likes of Ebdon, Williams, Advani and Maguire. There is nothing I could have done today. I just want to do better in all departments of my game.”

On the positive side, Mehta said, “I can move on and achieve bigger goals. If you have your heart at the right place and you are playing in right earnest and believe that you can do it, then nothing is impossible.”

Advani, who still maintains, “billiards is my wife and snooker is my mistress,” hailed the unfolding of the events. “It is great time for Indian snooker. It is great that we can match these big guys, shot for shot. I am proud that I belong to this league,” he said.

Mehta and Advani gathered a lot of confidence apart from the cheques worth £25,000 and £9,000 respectively. Their noteworthy performances also helped them earn substantial ranking points. The overall conditions and the conduct of the Indian Open invited rave reviews from the best pros in the world. Be it world number one Neil Robertson, four-time world champion John Higgins or Ding, they were all delighted with the superfine tables, adequate lighting, warm hospitality and the buzzing atmosphere.

THE RESULTS

Final: Ding Junhui beat Aditya Mehta 5-0 [76 (52)-36, 87 (81)-0, 107 (107)-0, 93 (93)-1, 116 (100)-].

Semi-finals: Ding Junhui beat Robbie Williams 4-1 [111 (68)-0, 90 (59)-11, 146 (142)-0, 0-87 (67), 76 (64)-28]; Aditya Mehta beat Stephen Maguire 4-3 [84 (42)-0, 137 (81, 49)-0, 132 (132)-0, 0-72 (68), 10-53 (48), 6-67 (61), 67 (32)-45].

Quarterfinals: Robbie Williams beat Anthony McGill 4-0 [79-0, 70-54, 107 (100)-0, 75-26]; Ding Junhui beat Neil Robertson 4-2 [96 (72)-4, 76 (52)-52, 0-86 (86), 0-104 (104), 85 (85)-10, 91 (91)-0]; Stephen Maguire beat Michael White 4-3 [29-60, 90 (90)-22, 0-133 (133), 0-125 (125), 78 (77)-0, 73 (73)-23, 52-47]; Aditya Mehta beat Pankaj Advani 4-3 [29-70, 70 (45)-0, 68-82, 58-43, 65-24, 45-66, 72 (38)-0].