Mumbai: Aditya Mehta would lead the host nation's challenge in the second Indian Open Snooker Championship, starting tomorrow, as four top-10 players in the world, including defending champion Ding Junhui of China, will vie for top honours.
Mumbai-born Mehta, ranked 50th in the professional circuit, is seeded a lowly 40th in the pound sterling 300,000 tournament and is the lone Indian who has already booked a spot in the 64-player main draw.
29-year-old Mehta, runner-up in the inaugural edition of the tournament held in October, 2013 in Delhi, blanked Hammad Miah of England 4-0 in Barnsley Metrodome in the UK to secure his place in the main draw.Mehta is up against higher-ranked English pro Mark King ? the world no. 33 ? in his first round on March 11.
Coming into this tournament, the Indian ace had reached the third round of the Welsh Open last month before being knocked out early in two other tournaments soon afterwards.
Six other Indian wild card recipients ? including national champion and former snooker pro tour card holder Pankaj Advani ? will be vying to enter the main draw through a one-round qualifying shoot-off tomorrow.
Advani, the Bengaluru cue ace, has had a two-year stint on the pro circuit before returning home, is the brightest Indian hope in the tournament after Mehta, having lost to the latter in the semi finals of the Delhi edition.
Advani has won both the International Billiards and Snooker Federation?s world billiards and snooker titles in the past and has good experience of playing in such top-level competitions on super-fast, double-shaven table cloth.
"I will definitely try to use my two years' experience on the pro circuit which should hold me in good stead. Winning the first match will give us confidence of a good run in the tournament," said Advani.
"The tables for the Indian Open championship are very fast. You have to use light cue touch. All of us Indian wild cards have to get adjusted to these tables fast before our first qualifying game," he remarked.
Advani takes on Scottish amateur Rhys Clark in the one-off shoot off tomorrow with the winner making it to the main draw.
The other Indian wild cards in the one-off qualifying round are: Faisal Khan, Dharminder Lily, Brijesh Damani, Neeraj Kumar and Sumit Talwar.
Khan, who along with Lily and Kamal Chawla had clinched the Asia Cup gold medal last August in Karachi, will play against Nigel Bond, England?s world no. 65 for a berth in the main round of 64.Talwar clashes with Adam Duffy of England, an amateur who defeated world no. 39 Jack Lisowski to earn his berth to India, while Lily crosses swords with China?s Lyu Haotian ? ranked 74th in the world.
The other two Indian hopes ? Damani and Kumar ? have earned shots at England?s world no 72 Sam Baird and Thai world no. 61 Thepchaiya Un-Nooh to enter the main draw.
Apart from title holder and world no. 4 Junhui, who is the no.1 seed in the tournament, the other top ten players who have qualified for the main draw are Judd Trump (England), Ricky Walden (England) and Marco Fu (Hong Kong) ? ranked 6, 8 and 10 in the world.
Besides, there are six other top 20 players who will vie for the top prize of pound sterling 300,000.
They are: John Higgins (Scotland, no. 12), Joe Perry (England, no. 13), Mark Williams (Wales, no. 15), Robert Milkins (England, no. 16) and Graeme Dott (Scotland, no. 17), Mark Davis (England, no. 18).
Also in the fray is 17-year-old, rising Chinese star Zhou Yeolong who won the world amateur title two years ago and then got into the last 32 of another international event this season.
The tournament was originally scheduled in October, 2014, but had to be put off as it clashed with the assembly elections in Maharashtra.