Pankaj Advani: Passion for the game keeps me going

“I love doing what I do, and as long as I do that, I will continue playing,” says the ace cueist. Advani talks about dealing with loss of form, the technical aspects he is working on, and more, in a conversation.

Pankaj Advani: “I feel I can still improve as a player — not in terms of winning titles, but improve my own levels and pursue excellence.” Photo: Special Arrangement

Pankaj Advani doesn’t like to rest on his laurels. Even after having 21 world titles in his kitty, the cue sport ace wants to achieve more.

As he gets ready for the IBSF World Billiards Championships, to be held in Myanmar from September 9, the 34-year-old speaks to Sportstar at a plush city hotel on Friday afternoon and makes it clear that his target is to score more.

“Sometimes, you need to go on the defensive, tighten it on the opponent and win. I don’t want to win like that as they say [it’s] winning ugly. I want to win a bit more gracefully,” he says.

Excerpts…

Q. At a time when most of your contemporaries have either given up or are exploring different career options, you are still hungry for more success, despite winning 21 world titles. What keeps you going?

A. To be honest, I have been asked this question a lot of times. I look forward to doing this every single day — to play the sport, to be on the table, to compete. To be able to do these things, you have that passion and joy. It’s something that has not died down as of now. When it dies down, I will say this the end. I am passionate about the sport. I love doing what I do, and as long as I do that, I will continue playing. It’s not about now, 'Oh, I have to win this title or that title!' I have done it multiple times. I am fortunate to have got that support that I received early in my career — be it from my school, college, family, coach, association. Everybody who has been a part of this incredible journey. There have been a lot of struggles and tough times as well, but that’s what makes a journey worth it when you can overcome the obstacles and achieve consistently. For me, joy and the passion for the game is the main thing that keeps me going. It is also that I feel I can still improve as a player — not in terms of winning titles, but improve my own levels and pursue excellence.

The expectations are sky high every time you hit the board. But on a personal level, how do you tackle situations when you are not in best of forms or not in the right frame of mind?

There’s so many things related to it that I can talk about. Everybody expects you to be at your best, every time you play. I have noticed that even when I am practising at the Karnataka State Billiards Association. Lot of people come up and tell me that ‘of late, you have not been playing well. You are not the same player anymore.’ It hurts. But the point is I know I am human and I am not going to play at my 100 per cent every single day.

We practise, work on our so-called flaws or our strengths also to keep improving, so that we are far more consistent in the tournaments. That’s the whole idea of practice — to be ready for big events. But it’s okay also not to play your best every single day. Nobody is ever going to win every single tournament he plays. Now, I have sort of allowed myself to have those sort of off days, but I am also finding ways to manage those off days. That’s what I have been able to do a lot better in the last few years. Even sort of, looking at my performance in the last few years. There are days when I have not performed my best, yet I have won the titles. That gives me immense satisfaction because I know that even though I have not played my best, I have found a way or a Plan B to come out and top the finish line. That’s very satisfying.

When you are playing your best, you know you have played your best and will eventually end up winning. But what happens when you are not in good form? I feel like I have evolved in that department.

You are a die-hard fan of Roger Federer. Is that something that you have learned from him?

What I have learned from people like Federer is that he has achieved so much in the sport. Everybody must be telling him that it’s time to call it a day, or you don’t need to play competitive [tennis] any more, you have got family and other priorities. Soon, my priorities will also change (laughs).

It’s about how he wants to go back to the drawing board and evolve as a sports person and continuously improve his own level. That’s something that motivates me as well. I want to improve my level, irrespective of whether I win or not. Or whether the results come in my favour or not. It’s just the love for the sport. It reflects in his game. The way Federer plays his game so beautifully. There is so much of an effort to make the game look effortless. It’s similar for me as well. I put in a lot of effort early in my career to make my game effortless. I am still working for that.

Players like Aditya Mehta have also excelled in professional circuit. Do you think that is more of a challenge for someone like you?

Aditya is also back now. He plays the same event. It’s been a couple of years now that he is back and he is also featuring in the same events like I do. I feel it is important because you are representing your country. When you are top three in the country, you get to play in all the championships — be it snooker or billiards. But for me, the biggest problem is to juggle between billiards and snooker, because everyone plays only one sport — either snooker or billiards. Nobody represents India consistently in both sport, so that’s where my challenge is. I have been doing this for more than a decade now, or even more than that. So my preparation and switch between two sport — they are so different from each other and are contrasting in nature, be it the scoring pattern or other aspects — changes. My calendar is fuller and more busy, as compared to others. That’s a challenge to perform and I am glad that I have found a way now to change my technique and shift from billiards to snooker very, very quickly.

"There are days when I have not performed my best, yet I have won the titles. That gives me immense satisfaction because I know that even though I have not played my best, I have found a way or a Plan B to come out and top the finish line. That’s very satisfying." File Photo: Sudhakara Jain

 

What are the areas that you have worked on?

In terms of scoring, I would like to score better. Sometimes, the game gets defensive and sometimes, it’s the need of the hour — you have to play defensive depending on the situation. I would like to be a bit more attacking, score a little more and also improve on the breaks. When you score well, that gives you the ultimate high. You can score really well and win. Sometimes, you need to go on the defensive, tighten it on the opponent and win. I don’t want to win like that as they say [it’s] winning ugly. I want to win a bit more gracefully (laughs). That’s what I am working on.

Until a few years back, cue sport was a niche sport. Now, a lot of people are coming forward. How do you see this change?

It has changed a lot to be honest. There are over a thousand participants in the national championship now — it’s amazing to see those numbers increasing steadily over the time. So also, I have started an academy in schools in Bengaluru recently. We are going to take it forward to various schools in Bengaluru and other cities. The whole idea is to introduce youngsters to the sport and who knows we may create a future World champion through this initiative.

You also launched an app service recently. How has been the response?

It’s my app, to provide an insight about myself. The main idea was to have those masterclass videos on the app, by which people can get a sneak peek into the game and how it is played. They can learn the basic rules and techniques. Obviously, I can’t go and teach because it’s on video. It’s nothing elaborate because if you are teaching someone, you have to hit the board. I would like to go out and help the youngsters via coaching clinics, when I have some free time. Somewhere down the line, I want to give back to the [game] which has given me so much. It has given me my entity.

You have also entered administration, becoming the honorary joint secretary of Karnataka State Billiards Association. Being a player and an administrator are two different roles. How has been the journey so far? What are the future plans?

To be honest, I am happy being a player. I am going to stick to that. I don’t think politics is something I enjoy at the moment. There is time for that. My main priority is to play. It has been good so far. We have organised many State-level, national and international events with decent prize money for men and women. We pulled off some really good tournaments. Arvind Savur being the president and heading the organisation, hopefully, it will get better. As far as playing and administration is concerned, I will take a backseat as an administrator and say, ‘hey listen, it’s better to leave it to the people who can devote more time’. In the last few months, I have concentrated on the game because I have felt that two are completely two different hats and are contrasting in nature. I hope whatever decisions are taken by our association, I can add value to that, keeping in mind the large interest in sport.

You lost to Sourav Kothari in the Asian Billiards championship, earlier this year. How shocking was it to lose to a comparatively lower-ranked player?

It’s always good to see players doing well and increasing their levels internationally. To be honest, the Asian Championship match was a group fixture, so it was not very consequential. Of course I felt bad that I lost, but I also felt that it’s a round-robin match and I was not out of the tournament. But if I probably would have lost in the knockouts, I would have been more disappointed. I didn’t worry too much about it because I had come from a snooker tournament, straight to the Asian billiards.

Strangely, this year, I have won more snooker titles. I have hardly played any billiards event this year. It’s good because most of my major achievement has come in billiards. It’s one of those years where I have better in snooker than billiards. That’s where I feel that I am lot more at ease because it’s not easy to achieve success in snooker because it’s unpredictable. The nature of snooker is unpredictable, whereas in billiards, you can predict that these are the people who can reach the top eight based on their abilities. Because, there is rarely any upset.

A lot of Indians have fared well in the recent past. How do you see that?

As far as Indians are concerned, Sourav is doing well in billiards now, there is S. Shrikrishna — who won the billiards title at the age of 18. It’s good to see younger players coming up and performing well. I am very impressed with people like Shrikrishna and the juniors who are coming up.

A few years ago, a cue league started, but it didn’t last more than a season. What’s the update on that?

As far as the league is concerned, we did have one on television a couple of years ago. This is a question you should ask the Billiards and Snooker Federation of India, because they are the ones in charge of the sport, they govern the sport. My job is to play the game. As a player, all I can say is that it will be great to be on television and have a league of our own. It’s where people can witness the sport and can understand how the game is played because it’s fascinating and is played by a lot of youngsters.

That’s the way forward, If you look at so many other sports, most of them are on television and they have a league of their own and they are doing phenomenally well.

You spoke about changing priorities. There are talks that you are getting married soon. What’s the plan for the future?

(Laughs) Personal life is obviously something I am devoting my time to. You will get to know more details once things become more official.