Pankaj Advani: ‘I like to play the beautiful game’

The 18-time world champion discusses the style of his play, his preparations, and more in a chat with Sportstar on the sidelines of the 6-Red National championship.

Pankaj Advani supports the growth of 6-Red snooker, a format he believes is television friendly.   -  V. Ganesan

Pankaj Advani calls snooker “a beautiful game” and perceives himself as an artist. On the sidelines of the 6-Red Nationals here, Sportstar caught up with the 18-time world champion for a chat.

Excerpts

On his 18 titles

Beyond a stage it is not about numbers. I have never been a person who thinks about records. I consider myself an artist more than a sportsperson. I like to create something new all the time, create my own individual style. A lot of people say my technique is unconventional, it doesn't really matter as along as you are effective and comfortable in your skin. And to me success is all about being comfortable in you own skin. I am not looking at numbers, but obviously it does occur to me before I play in any major final, but I have reached the stage where it is about excellence about fulfilling your potential as a player.

Obviously, if you are doing the right thing at the right time, the results will follow. The key is to not think about the outcome but concentrate on the process; that's where I would like to give credit to my brother Shree who is a sports psychologist. He has been very helpful.

What next?

I have won in all formats and it is satisfying to lift all the titles more than once. Sometimes you don’t have to think about what next. I get up in the morning and I want to play. The pure joy of playing [and] enjoying myself takes me to another level. Obviously I want to improve as a player, evolve further. I am not looking at a number, I just go out there and express myself as best as I can. For me sport is an art.

On preparation

[It] mostly depends on the stage of the tournament. A lot of things are discussed [with my brother]. Sometimes I am scared of a particular opponent, or probably if [I] haven't played well in the previous match, how to pick up myself, how to charge myself up for a big match - all things are discussed.

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Usually about anxiety, stress, how to approach a particular game. Not that I strategise myself too much. Like certain times if you are playing a relatively inexperienced player but extremely talented, you have to use you experience, sometime bully him if need be....there are so many factors; I benefit a lot from his expertise.

I visualise a lot, of course not about lifting the trophy because it is a long way to go before that, but visualise playing a particular stroke, about playing well, playing the right shots, playing smoothly and sometimes even visualise even the worst. Because there a lot of times when you are nervous, there are a lot of times when you are scared, there are butterflies in the stomach because you are playing a very tough opponent, so in a way it's a kind of reverse psychology, looking at it as nothing worse can happen you then go out and enjoy the game.

On 6-Red

To promote the game on television, 6-Red is the way to go because people’s attention span is reduced and no one wants to see a long battle of attrition; [this is true] especially for our subcontinent. In places like U.K. and China they are used to the traditional 15-Reds and there is a huge TV audience, but for our subcontinent I feel 6-Red is very TV friendly.

What do you admire about other successful sportspersons?

I like the fact that they are relentless in their pursuit of excellence and are re-defining standards, playing the game the way it should be played - effortless and graceful. We have seen a lot of players in many sports, legendary players, who make a lot of effort, some of them hard workers. Nothing to take away from them, but I would like to play the game effortlessly, play the beautiful game. Rather than being seen as putting in a lot of hard work to pin my opponent down. That's not my style, but at times when the situation demands yes, but not every time. So it is all about how you play the game; that's where people relate to sport because it brings out your core instinct and that's what people identify with you, your style, your body language and all.

On Roger Federer

He is as smooth as it can get, as graceful, as elegant, as classy and he is a champion not only on the court but also off the court doing charity work. He connects with his fans like no other sportsperson does. So I think that's a great way of conducting oneself. He has taken the interaction and game to a next level.

Unconventional style

Basically I started very young and was quite short and so always my arms go up and play a little high, unlike say, parallel to the table. But it is about understanding your own technique and what suits you the best and I have made several changes to small things over the years aided by my coaches - [in particular] of course, Arvind Savur, to whom I owe all my success. Manoj Kothari, too, is helping me with my technique. I just keep my eyes and ears open. I am a student of the game at the end of the day. I was always a learner.

On plans to guide youngsters

Definitely. The game has given me an identity and I am known because of billiards and snooker so I would love to impart my knowledge to youngsters, but not right now. That is something I have in mind in the future. Would love to give back to the game that has given me so much.

On growth of sport in our country

There needs to be a better system in place, I have seen players all round the world and have seen how focused they are. The general sporting scenario in India needs a revamp in term of structure and system revamp and I am very hopeful now that Col Rajyvardhan Singh Rathore has taken over as Sports Minister. I feel he will make a lot of difference by trying to get more professionals involved in preparations. But we have a long way to go as compared to countries like China, Australia, the U.S., or U.K., where a lot of funds go into nurturing sportsperson from a very young age. Here, only if we win or establish ourselves we get some kind of support, which anyway you would not need at that point. You need it when you are starting [out] or at the initial stages. The fact that we look only at quadrennial event, like the Games - nothing to take away from that, they are important and I can also understand people going ballistic over it - doesn’t help. We need to look at consistency.

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Like a movie star for example, he doesn't become a star giving one hit once in four years, he has to give hits after hits and not just one. Similarly in sports, we need to be consistent over longer periods and not just be happy with winning a few medals once in four years or one brilliant performance once in four years. It doesn't work that way. I think it is this part or the perception that needs to be looked at.

On professional circuit

A lot of people ask me this question, and I would like to take them with me and show them how tough it is in terms of funding, moving away from family and so many factors. I feel The Tour, as they they call it in snooker, is highly U.K.-centric. It is completely lopsided and very, very difficult for outsiders. I don’t see myself living in one corner of U.K. for several years away from my family. It is a personal choice. It doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t fell it is global enough.