Advani advances in World Championship qualifiers

London: He was left hassled after his baggage was misplaced but unfazed by it, ace Indian cueist Pankaj Advani rallied to beat China`s Li Hang in the second round of the qualifying event for the World Snooker Championships in Sheffield. Advani notched up a 10-9 triumph to set up a clash against England`s Robbie Williams in the penultimate qualifying round tomorrow. The main event is scheduled from April 19 to May 5.

Advani was trailing throughout the match against Hang, who scored heavily in many frames. However, it was the eight-time world champion from India, who used his experience and showed nerves of steel to get past the finish line first. The match played over two days saw the first session ending with the Chinese leading 5-3. On resumption the following day, Hang maintained the lead and at one stage the score was 8-5.

With only two frames away from defeat, Advani responded to the pressure and won the next three on the trot. What has made this trip to the UK for Advani even more challenging was when his regular Dubai-based airline failed to check the baggage which resulted in a co-passenger mistakenly exiting with Advani`s suitcase from the Manchester airport.

The Indian was without any of his belongings for three days only to receive it the night before his match. "I am not saying we are better than them or if the scenario was different, they would be losing to us. But it would make a big difference.

"For example, if they have to come here, and drive down to Pune or to another city for three hours, play a match and then come back, they would also struggle, isn`t it? It is a struggle for foreigners," the top cueist insisted. Advani pointed out that the qualifiers for ranking events are held in UK because most of the players in top 64 are from England and said the green baize game cannot be termed global unless it`s held in different countries.

"The problem now is that most of the top players in the top 64 or the top 128 are from UK, so it makes sense to have qualifiers in the UK. But as an outsider or a foreigner, (I feel) may be three to five years down the line it should be held in different countries. "Like in tennis for example, you have a Madrid Masters and everyone goes to Madrid and actually plays the tournament or even the qualifying rounds before, so once we get to that stage then I can call snooker a global sport," he said.

The seven time world champion said he was more consistent in his performance in his second year as a pro. "When I went to England two years ago I thought I need to improve myself as a player, to hone my skills, to take my level up. The first year I just started with a bang and I reached the semis and the quarters and I was so happy.

"Obviously I knew at a stage it (performance) is going to go down and then come up again. I am glad that I have become more consistent. Especially in the second season I have started winning first rounds and second rounds more often. "First and second seasons have been contrasting in terms of the results I have had but I am glad that I have improved more than anything else," he said. Advani is scheduled to participate in the World Team championship that would be held from June 18 to 29 and is eager to show his skills in the World Billiards Championship to be held at Leeds, England from October 17 to 29.

"There are a lot of events coming up. There is the World Team Championship for which I have qualified to play which is in Egypt in June. That is the next one and the World Billiards is later this year which I would like to play. Besides there are some snooker events, so a lot to look forward to," Advani said.

Advani has plans to work on his fitness, physical as well as mental, when asked about his preparation for the upcoming world championship.
"Mental and physical fitness is something I am going to work on. Because at the highest level, everyone has the skill but what separates the best from the rest is that extra toughness in terms of mental approach and in terms of physical fitness, that makes a huge difference. So I am going to work on these two areas."

Advani would try to balance both the cue sports this year after neglecting billiards last year. "I am enjoying playing billiards all over again. My identity and my accomplishments have come from billiards, so I will never forget that part. I would like to play more billiards unlike the previous year where I completely neglected billiards.

"Somehow I will have to find a way to balance both billiards and snooker. It may mean missing a few events in snooker but I am willing to do it," he said. He felt that youngsters like Jaiveer Dhingra and Aditya Agarwal were promising and could take over the billiards scene in three to five years.

"There is Jaiveer Dhingra as well as Aditya Agarwal who are good billiards players. It`s nice to see proper billiards players emerge, because a lot of youngsters play snooker and it is nice to see two Bombay boys improving their billiards game and competing with all of us at the top level. Give them three to five years and I am sure they will be taking over the billiards scene," he said.

Advani further said he would like to coach in future and would probably start an academy. "I would love to coach some day and I would like to impart my knowledge to youngsters and hopefully even think of starting an academy someday," he said.

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