Learning the ways of a professional

“I would probably require three or four years to break into the top 64 (of the pro circuit), or maybe just another year. I may be able to do it, but that's not the goal. My goal is to go much higher,” says Aditya Mehta in a chat with G. Viswanath.

Aditya Mehta was crowned the National snooker champion for the first time at the 78th National Championship in Chennai in August 2011. It's an achievement he is happy about, especially after he had to rough it out in the tough world of professional snooker.

After a two-year break, Aditya has returned to the pro circuit (2011-12 season), and he hopes — provided he gets adequate funding — to continue as a professional and make an impact on the circuit.

The 26-year-old player had won a silver medal in the team event and a bronze in singles at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou. He had also won a bronze in the team event at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha.

Soon after his thrilling but nerve-wracking semifinal against Shahbaz Adil Khan at the Manisha 79th National Championship in Pune recently, Aditya spoke to Sportstar on his experience as a professional and also events related to the Nationals. He is part of the Star Snooker Academy in Sheffield which looks after his needs there, especially things associated with the game, for 10 months against payment of a particular sum. “There are six Chinese, three Thai players and myself and Lucky Vatnani. Every day we practise and play against a new player. If there is more funding, I am sure that at least 30 Asians would be among the top 100 professionals. The British have dominated the game, but the Asians are not far behind,” says Aditya, who successfully defended his National snooker title in Pune.

Excerpts:

Question: This is your second season in the UK pro circuit. Have the results been satisfactory?

Answer: It's been in patches, and some of my performances have been way beyond what I had done in the first season. But I have also gone through down periods where I have lost in the first round in four tournaments in a row. That's the quality that exists in the professional tour. I just need to get a good run and carry on with confidence in the following tournaments.

How much have you improved as a player — skillwise and mentally?

Everything people saw today (during the match against Shahbaz Adil Khan) was basically due to what I have learnt over the years; certainly not the 4-0 to 4-all bit which was very disappointing. But it's very important for a sportsperson to go through such an experience. One feels pressure, understands pressure and learns to cope with it. A 5-0 win would have been great, but I would not have learnt anything new. So I am really happy that I got the opportunity to be challenged and was able to come up on top.

You dropped only one frame before the semi-finals (against Khan), but do you think you were able to demolish opponents? The big breaks were missing…

I have demolished every opponent until the semi-finals. People would expect a lot like the big century breaks. I have played solid games, not giving the opponents a sniff of a chance. That's what you get out of a professional who is sharp and determined. The game is not just about break-building; it's also about several other aspects. I am still making the 60s and 70s and winning frames. A top professional will convert these into century breaks more often than I do. That's something I can improve upon and it's fair enough for people to expect me to be more aggressive and make bigger breaks because I have been in the pro circuit for two seasons.

Aditya Mehta... "If you have to survive in snooker you have to give 100 per cent."-R. RAGU

But if they have seen my overall performance in the Nationals here, they would know the improvement I have made. Everyone knows that 80 per cent of the game is in the mind. Everyone can pot balls and everyone can make breaks, but what's important is to possess the mental strength to be able to deliver the goods when it actually matters. I could have made big breaks two years ago, but I would not have been able to force opponents into submission which I was able to do at this Nationals. I have become tougher now because of the disappointments I faced in the last three years and also this season's odd successes which are huge but which nobody seems to have really taken notice of. I am really proud of what I have done here in Pune. I will be happy if I make six 70 breaks and win the match 7-0 rather than make three 100s and lose.

Were you anxious when Khan pulled back from 0-4 down to make it 4-4?

It was just unbelievable. I was completely fine mentally and I was looking forward to one opportunity to seal the match, but my body just gave in. It was really surprising and disappointing to feel like that. But in hindsight, I think this match will make a big impact on my future.

The semi-finalists were all snooker specialists…

In India, the billiards and snooker players have been doing well in both events. Alok Kumar and Pankaj Advani are prime examples. Also Joshi (Devendra) and Ashok (Shandilya) play the two games so well. But the way snooker is going right now internationally, and with more and more youngsters watching online streaming on EuroSport and learning so much, I think there is space only for the purists. If you have to survive in snooker you have to give 100 per cent. It cannot be 50-50; you may win a National title, but you may not be able to do anything abroad.

For how many more years do you intend playing in the pro circuit?

It all depends on the money and funding I get. I would probably require three or four years to break into that top 64, or maybe just another year. I may be able to do it, but that's not the goal. My sgoal is to go much higher. Hopefully, I will have the necessary funding to do it. It's been a struggle. All credit to my family; they have supported me, shared my dream and passion. But there is a time limit to their support, and I hope that someone sees the potential in me and gives me support. For 10 months it comes to Rs. 20 lakh, which should not be a big deal for any corporate house. There are so many talented Indian snooker players who are excited about playing in the pro circuit, but they cannot do it. Maybe I can make a mark and benefit many other players.

You came here to defend the title you won only in August 2011?

Well, it's less than six months. Frankly, for me it was all about winning the Nationals in Chennai. It's a massive event for me. It does not matter now as much as it did last year. I had shown the potential for so many years and I won almost everything that came my way, but not the National title. I was so relieved after I broke the jinx last year. I came into the Nationals here (in Pune) not caring if I would win or lose or whatever. I just wanted to show what I was capable of. It's great to have one National title, which is a stepping stone to bigger events. I was not fussed about defending it.

Cue sport is unlikely to be part of the next Asian Games?

Fortunately I got two medals at the last Asian Games. If the sport never comes back to the Asian Games, it's too bad. That's one event wherein we had the opportunity to represent India and bring glory; taking it away from us will be a huge disappointment.