New Delhi: World 6-red snooker gold medallist Vidya Pillai and 2006 edition bronze winner Manan Chandra are India`s best medal hopes at the IBSF World Snooker Championship, beginning in Daugavpils, Latvia from Wednesday.
A 10-member Indian contingent today left for the European country to compete in the prestigious 12-day championship.
The 15-Red championship has attracted 242 entries from 51 countries, of which, 126 will fight it out for the men`s trophy. The Masters and women events will see 74 and 42 contestants respectively at the Daugavpils Olympic Sports Center.
India have fielded Manan Chandra (Delhi), Brijesh Damani (Kolkata) and Shahbaaz Adil Khan (Kolkata) in the men`s section while Pillai (Tamil Nadu), Neena Praveen (Tamil Nadu), Chitra Magimairaj (Karnataka), Arantxa Sanchis (Mumbai) and Varshaa Sanjeev (Karnataka) form the women`s squad.
In the Masters section (above 40 age), India have two entries in Tamil Nadu`s S A Saleem and Nizel Benedict Lazar. Sanjay Sawant will be accompanying the team as the chief coach. Varshaa, at 16, is the youngest-ever cueist to represent India in the IBSF event.
The IBSF snooker events have always been a happy hunting ground for the Indian cueists as the country boast of four gold medals, two silver and six bronze from the prestigious championships.
India had won their first historic gold in snooker in 1984 when late O B Agarwal defeated T Parson of Wales in Dublin, Ireland. Eight-time world champion Pankaj Advani repeated the feat in China 19 years later when he won the IBSF World Snooker gold at the age of 18 in 2003.
The Indian trio of Geet Sethi, Devendra Joshi and BVS Murthy had also proudly featured with gold medals around their necks in the inaugural IBSF World Team Championship event in 2006 at San Jose, America while the duo of Pillai and Arantxa Sanchis clinched the yellow metal in the women`s team event at the World 6-red snooker in Carlow, Ireland last month.
The last two editions of the IBSF World 15-Red Snooker saw five-time national champion Pillai reigning supreme on the green baize, winning the bronze medal in 2010 and 2012.
Talking about India`s chance this year, Sawant was confident putting up a strong show again.
"The preparation has been good and Manan and Vidya have good chances of reaching the medal rounds. The last few months have been good for our lady cueists with Arantix and Vidya winning the gold medal in the World 6-red snooker," Sawant told PTI.
"It`s a different ball game playing 15-red format in the World Snooker. Manan is a very experienced player. His game reaches a different level when it comes to performing at the international scene. He also participated in the Indian Open last month and that experience will hold him in good stead.
"Brijesh was part of the Indian trio which bagged the gold medal in the inaugural Asian Team Snooker Championships in Doha this year. Shahbaaz Khan is fairly new to this arena but has a lot of energy and hunger to succeed. I have high hopes from our players," added Sawant.
Sanchis, who juggle a full-time job with a family life, said her passion for cue sport keeps her going.
"It`s quite hectic coming straight from work, manage your family life and then practice for the championship. The last couple of days have been very tiring but my love for the game kept me going. I have worked hard for the championship and I am confident of performing well," she said.
Sanchis, who holds the national record of winning four titles (sub-junior and junior billiards and sub-junior and junior snooker) in a single Nationals meet in 2008 at Indore, has been chosen by the Symbiosis International University, which consisted of 10 MBA colleges in the country with over 5000 students, for the prestigious Chancellor`s gold medal for her academic excellence.
"This year has been good for me both personally and professionally. I want to keep the momentum going. I hope that some corporate houses take notice of my performance at the international level and sponsor me," she added.
Brijesh, who described the Latvia championship as the most important tournament for him this year, said, "The experience of playing at the international level will definitely help my game there. I won the silver medal in the Asian Indoor Games in Korea this year and also reached the quarters in the World Team Championship in Ireland. I have justified my potential time and again. I hope to do well in the championship," he said.