New Delhi: Cue sports legend Pankaj Advani has finally got his due after being ignored for Padma Bhushan the previous two years. It is a case of better late than never though the 18-time world champion says he has no hard feelings against the government.
His achievements are well documented but it is still worth mentioning that he is getting better with age and has won seven world titles in the last four years.
So like his inspiration Roger Federer, is he too ageing like a fine wine?
"Well, I am still 32 (laughs) and not old. But yes, I realise I am not young either. I am just excited that good things are happening at this stage of my career," Advani told PTI after adding another feather to his illustrious cap, India's third highest civilian honour.
He was a 16-time world champion when he was ignored for Padma Bhushan for the second time, making him wonder 'what more he needs to do'. Twelve months later, Advani has thanked the government for bestowing the honour.
"I know what I said last year," said Advani when reminded about his controversial statement last year.
"This year I was not even thinking about (the award). I was actually at a club in Bangalore, out for dinner with my friends, when I got the call last night. After a point, I realised if it comes it comes; if it doesn't, it will come next year.
"I don't play for awards. Even last year, after I said what I said, it was definitely not the end of the world for me. Now that I have got it, it is hugely exciting and motivating," he said.
It is remarkable that Advani still has the zeal and motivation to keep going, 12 years after he won India's highest sporting honour, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna. He was just 20 back then.
What is left now? Padma Vibhushan or even a Bharat Ratna besides the world titles he keeps churning out year after year?
"Well, there has to be a five-year gap between each Padma awards, so it is a long shot. God knows where I will be five years later. You are not even sure what is going to happen tomorrow," he said.
"Having said that, it (getting a Padma Vibhushan or Bharat Ratna) all depends on the perception of the sport in our country. If we are willing to accept achievers from across disciplines, only time will tell.
"For now, I am enjoying this moment. It is not only my glory, it is glory for the entire cue sports fraternity," said Advani.
His achievements are mind-boggling and what makes them even greater is the fact they have come simultaneously in billiards and snooker.
Last November in Doha, he switched from billiards to snooker within days and still ended up winning world titles in either category.
Advani, who potted his maiden world title in 2005, picked 2014, 2015 and 2017 as the standout years of his phenomenal career.
"They stand out for different reasons; 2014 because I won four world titles. I never thought it would be possible. In 2015, I won both the 6-red and the traditional 15-red world titles along with the billiards (time format), stuff like that happens once in a lifetime," he said.
"2017 was another crazy year. To be able to win billiards and snooker back-to-back was special because normally people specialize in one sport. I surprised myself there."
He has been honoured with Padma Bhushan alongside MS Dhoni, a cricketer he admires the most.
Will the award give him the extra dose of motivation, Advani said: "It is definitely motivating to continue pursuing excellence in billiards and snooker. To keep improving. It is surely a great start to the year."
None of his 18 world titles would have been possible without the support of coach Arvind Savur and brother Shree Advani, who is a well-known mind coach.
"Sport is not just about skill, technique and hard work. It is also about understanding your emotions, how to approach the game. There is hardly anything that separates the best from the rest.
"Shree has helped me immensely on the mental aspect and of course my coach Arvind Savur," added Advani.