‘Lightning’ white

“SomeMichael White in action at the Indian Open. "Some people can shut up now. Since I was nine, people have been on my back to win major titles," said the Welshman after winning the title.-VIVEK BENDRE

Last year, at the inaugural Indian Open, the Welshman went up to the quarterfinals. This time he went all the way to win the title, and now wants to return for another. By Nandakumar Marar.

Long before Michael White got to lay his hands on the golden trophy, the 2015 Indian Open Snooker champion had a big surprise from a player he hugely admires. Mark Williams, a two-time world champion, pulled the dazed 23-year-old player aside for a quick ‘selfie’ before the lights were switched on at the venue.

Williams was White’s idol, and it was the former champion’s performances and personality that drew White to snooker. Now the young fan himself was an achiever on his own steam. Therefore, the legend grabbed the opportunity to click a photograph with a special talent destined for greatness. Both, incidentally, are from Wales.

“He probably wanted a picture with the champion,” was how White put it when asked about the unexpected bonus he received before the trophy.

White also received the biggest pay-cheque of his career — £50,000 — for beating the World No. 8, Ricky Walden of England, 5-0 in the final of the Indian Open in Mumbai.

For White, who rose to World No. 17 from No. 22 following his victory in Mumbai, Williams’ gesture was a confirmation that Welsh snooker was in secure hands. Incidentally, Williams, who was honoured with an MBE in 2004, lost to White in the semifinals of the Indian Open.

“He sort of guided me, told me about the things he did at my age. Mark (Williams) has won everything in the game. Knowing him, I was sure he would not say anything to put me in the wrong lane,” said White of the chat he had with his idol.

“Basically it was about maintaining discipline away from the table, about putting in more hours,” he added.

In the final at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, White left Walden ashen-faced, winning four frames before the break and returning to pocket the fifth frame with his highest break of 87 in a one-sided contest. Mark was in the audience, watching in silence, as the teenager shed the ‘prodigy’ tag.

“Some people can shut up now. Since I was nine, people have been on my back to win major titles. This win means everything to me. All my life revolved around snooker,” said White, dismissing notions about pressure from expectations back home. “The only pressure I feel is what I put on myself.”

He went on: “I have dreamed of winning big tournaments from the time I turned pro. Here I was the best, playing against the best. I don’t think I put a foot wrong. My safety play was good, break-building was brilliant. When I’m playing like this, there is not much an opponent can do.”

The Welsh player is used to being in the spotlight from the time he entered the Guinness Book of Records as the youngest in cue sport to notch a century break (he was nine years old then) and the youngest to win a World amateur title (2006 IBFS World Grand Prix at the age of 14).

In the 2007 Shanghai Masters, White was forced to give a walkover to Lee Walker in the first round. The reason: he was only 15 and too young to be a pro!

Walden managed only 27 points over five frames against White, whom he had beaten in both his previous two meetings.

White raced through five frames to victory in just 57 minutes to bag his first ranking title. In the event, he raised his prize money earnings to £184,020.

“My nickname is Lightning, so now you know why,” the Welshman said.

Blessed with swift hands and an electrifying style, the champion is on the verge of hitting big time as a professional, attracting fans to snooker halls, and television viewers. “In England and Wales, there are not many young players coming through. Wales definitely needs a boost, there are more snooker clubs shutting down,” White said.

Taking the cue from Mark Williams, young fans in Wales will line up for ‘selfies’ with the happy-go-lucky champion.

Last year, at the inaugural Indian Open, conducted by the Billiards and Snooker Federation of India, White went up to the quarterfinals.

This time he went all the way to win the title. He now wants to return for another title. “I will be back if there are no bigger events clashing,” he said.

TOPPING THEPOPULARITY CHART

Thepchaiya Un Nooh, a losing semifinalist at the Indian Open snooker tournament, took home �13,500. However, in terms of popularity, the left-hander from Bangkok overshadowed the big names with his rapid-fire potting and stylish play.

Aditya Mehta lasted just one round, while the six Indian qualifiers were eliminated in the wildcard round. This meant that the snooker followers in Mumbai turned to cheer Thepchaiya, who advanced to the semifinals from the wildcard round.

In the round of four, Ricky Walden, ranked No. 8 in the world, defeated Thepchaiya 4-3 but said that he was a big fan of the Thai.

The defending champion, Ding Junhui, was helpless in the first round as he suffered defeat at the hands of Thepchaiya. The crowd that had gathered at the venue to watch the top-seeded Chinese play dispersed admiring his rival's game.

Based in Sheffield for six years since turning professional in 2009, the Thai notched up three century breaks. In the second round, Luca Brecel (Belgium) was a mere spectator, as Thepchaiya knocked up 137 - the tournament's second highest break after the 138 by Stuart Carrington (England).

Indian players complained of difficulty in adjusting to the roll of the balls on the tables used (Chinese brand Star tables with double-shaven English cloth). However, Thepchaiya was in his element, and his former roommate in Sheffield, Aditya Mehta, who is the highest ranked Indian professional at 50, said, "I know him well. He is an attacking player."

For Thepchaiya, the biggest challenge now is to win the battle with himself, for in the semifinals against Walden, he lost from a winning position. The Thai won the first three frames 78-0, 68-53, 72-0 to push Walden to the brink of elimination before his touch deserted him and fouls began to creep into his play. The Englishman won the next four frames to storm into the final, leaving Thepchaiya to reflect on the defeat.

Nandakumar Marar