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I now have maturity & wisdom to understand myself better: Advani

Winner of 21 world titles aware of the need to keep reinventing himself

By Lokendra Pratap Sahi in Calcutta

  • Published 2.12.18, 2:43 AM
  • Updated 2.12.18, 2:57 AM
Pankaj Advani after winning the Grand Double in the IBSF World Billiards in Yangon recently.
Pankaj Advani after winning the Grand Double in the IBSF World Billiards in Yangon recently. Picture courtesy: Cue Sports India

Pankaj Advani, winner of a phenomenal 21 World titles, spoke to The Telegraph from his residence in Bangalore on Saturday evening, a day after returning home post the much-envied Grand Double in Yangon.

Excerpts....

Q Three world titles in 2018... You’ve surely earned a nice vacation...

A (Laughs) Exactly... I intend taking a holiday, in Goa, which is close to my city... Right now, back in Bangalore, I’m catching up on lost sleep and spending time with my close-knit family. I’m not competing in a snooker event in Doha later this month, so there’s no tournament-related stress.

Q In the first half of the year came the IBSF World snooker team championship and, in Yangon last month, you achieved the Grand Double in the IBSF World billiards... Would the premier Myanmar city be a special venue for you?

A I’d say so... I’ve never come away empty handed... Overall, this is my fourth Grand Double (after 2005, 2008 and 2014) and I don’t think anybody else has done it four times. All the more reason for Yangon to be special.

Q Is there a greater degree of comfort level at some venues?

A There is... I suppose that feeling is there for other sportsmen too... Dilip Vengsarkar, for example, had hundreds at Lord’s in each of his first three Test appearances there... It’s about being comfortable with certain surfaces as well... Roger Federer and grass/Wimbledon, Rafael Nadal and clay/French Open... To talk of Yangon, it’s pretty calm and serene, something I relate to. Besides, Yangon has a strong billiards culture and I personally got a lot of respect there.

Q Till 2013, you only had eight World titles. From 2014, you’ve added a staggering 13. To what would you attribute this phase to? Maturity? Experience? Other factors?

A A combination of reasons... I spent two years in England, 2012 and 2013, and that’s when I explored snooker in its purest form... Maybe, my success in recent years also has something to do with maturity. It’s widely believed that one peaks in the period from the late 20s to the mid 30s... I’d like to add that, at the age of 33, I certainly now have the maturity and wisdom to understand myself better. Clearly, understanding the self is important, it’s part of one’s growth.

Q Twentyone World titles... What next?

A Obviously, I’d like to continue bringing glory to India but, at the same time, look at ways to give something back to the sport. Maybe, by way of coaching/grooming... I’ve become the joint-secretary of the Karnataka State Billiards Association. While I’m certainly not looking at a full-time administrative role, I’d certainly like to help spread billiards... I’d also like the existing disparity in rewarding champions of disciplines in the Olympic fold and the champions hailing from, say, billiards and snooker to end. That’s something which needs to be addressed both by the Union government and the States. Surely, the effort I or the other winners put in, cannot be any less than that of an athlete who gets a medal in the Olympics or the Asian Games. Of course, it’s not only about monetary rewards, but changing the policy as well. Today, everything is loaded in favour of winners either at the Olympics or the Asian Games, both of which are held every four years. If this continues, then I’m afraid the enthusiasm of many promising cueists will get killed. They’d be strongly discouraged.

Q You won your first World title 15 years ago... What keeps challenging you?

A Sometimes one tends to complicate things... The reality is I remain very passionate and enjoy competing. The titles and records will come if one keeps doing the right thing... I do have to keep reinventing myself or else I’ll stagnate. Stagnating would mean the rest of the world is catching up. I’m aware that I cannot win each time I head to the table.

Q This probably isn’t a politically correct question, but have you ever felt bored?

A Sometimes I have felt the monotony, but I’ve reached a situation where I can — and I do — pick and choose tournaments.

Q Top sportsmen regularly talk of being in the ‘zone’... Does concentrating for long hours, for example, come easy?

A Comes more naturally over a period of time... Presence of mind is mightily crucial.

Q The fear of failure...

A In September, after recovering from a neck and right shoulder injury, I didn’t know what to expect when I resumed playing (in Qatar)... Having being off billiards and snooker for almost six months was a very unusual feeling... Three World titles in 2018 but, overall, a somewhat mixed year owing to the injury. There, indeed, are times when you step into the unknown.

Q Other disciplines have seen many changes... What about the changes in billiards and snooker?

A The changes have challenged one mentally and technically. There are many more tournaments, newer formats have been introduced... The changes have been plenty in the past decade-and-a-half... Unlike most, I haven’t specialised in either billiards or snooker. The challenges, therefore, are considerable for me.

Q Have you been keeping track of Team India?

A Honestly, not in any detail.

Q Some words on India captain Virat Kohli, who helms the Bangalore franchise in the IPL, and former India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni...

A I can’t comment on whether Dhoni should or shouldn’t be picked for the 2019 World Cup, but nobody is more experienced than him... He doesn’t have to be the captain to be a leader... I’m sold on the way Dhoni has conducted himself for 14-15 years... Virat has grown even bigger in stature and, clearly, raised the bar quite high.

Q The last one... How should greatness be measured — titles/records, runs/wickets, longevity or the legacy one leaves?

A (Pauses) This is very subjective... Obviously, statistics don’t lie, so that aspect is very much there... I’m a huge fan of Federer and he’s a great... So, let me look at him... Federer has the maximum individual Slams (20) among men, connects with fans in such admirable fashion and has a Foundation in his name... Federer has touched people’s hearts... For me, it’s never only about titles and/or records, but how somebody conducts himself/herself. I’d definitely look at the quality of one’s play but, equally, the kind of human being he/she has been. I’d look at the individual from every angle.

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