There are stalwarts whose names come up to our mind immediately when we discuss a particular sport. For example, in tennis we have Roger Federer, in football, it's either Messi or Ronaldo, in golf, it's Tiger Woods. Similar to their achievements, we have one particular Indian who has been consistently raising the country's bar high for the past two decades and is reckoned one of the finest in his world. He is none other than billiards and snooker player Pankaj Advani.
The 35-year-old has in his stride 14 World Billiards titles, 3 World Snooker titles, 4 Professional Billiards titles and an Asian title. He has won the Grand Slam in both Billiards and Snooker. In 2019, he became the only player to win the Asian and World championships in all formats (six reds and 15 reds) of snooker. He is also the only one to do so in both billiards and snooker. He has won gold twice in the Asian Games in 2006 and 2010. He has won Khel Ratna, Arjuna Award and the Padma Bhushan.
Pankaj Advani with the Asian Snooker Title he won in 2019 (Source: Facebook/Pankaj Advani)
Advani, who is at his home in Bengaluru owing to the pandemic induced lockdown, been on and off practice and trying to accept the new normal when things are looking uncertain at the moment. "The whole scenario was unexpected and we are all adjusting to the new normal. During the first lockdown in March, I resumed my practice for a bit and then stopped during the second lockdown. I have been practising again since August. Because there is no competition ahead, it's difficult to motivate yourself, we got the news that there won't be any international tournaments this year. However, I am enjoying my practice, I dedicate three-four hours every day on weekdays," said Advani in an exclusive interview with The Bridge.
Advani recently appeared as the guest on squash player Saurav Ghoshal's web series called 'The Finishing Line' which is aimed to bring the best athletes from across the country and share their stories of success. "I really liked the concept of the show. In India, there are many world-beaters like Abhinav Bindra, Viswanathan Anand, I felt honoured to be on that list. Saurav did his thorough research and it was good to interact with a fellow sportsperson because he understands your psyche and how you react to different situations. I could experience a gamut of emotions while talking to him," quipped Advani during talking about the show.
When asked about his motivation to play further even after achieving everything in his field, Advani said, "Sometimes it's not about achievement, it's just about enjoying and appreciating what you love. That is what billiard and snooker are to me. I love sports from the bottom of my heart. It's a creative expression for myself. When I play a game on a table, everything else seizes to exist and I am transported to another world. That itself is a great feeling. In times like these, our minds are diverted to a lot of different thoughts. So when I play, I can shut off everything else. When you excel at it, you enjoy even more. I am just making the most of my gift. Beyond titles and achievements, it is just something that gives me peace."
Advani reciving the Khel Ratna Award from the late President of India Dr APJ Abdul Kalam (Source: Facebook/Pankaj Advani)
Apart from billiards, he has kept himself busy with some mobile games, particularly the word games and riddles, he has been also following tennis and been watching the US Open on television. Advani says, "It is good to stay stimulated. I am not a good cook and have been doing some household chores as well. I am also spending some quality time with my family and appreciate the bond with them because as a professional athlete you always don't get that time."
The king of green baize, who has been seen in taking the ramp at fashion shows and magazine covers earlier in completely different attire says he enjoys it and would love to be a part of it again if he gets a chance, "I am open to doing stuff like these. Of course, there are so much more to life than sports. I enjoy all sort of things because after all, it brings a little bit of variety in life," responds Advani.
Keeping an eye on the ball (Source: Facebook/Pankaj Advani)
In January 2019, Advani started the Cue School by Pankaj Advani (CSPA), which is India’s first chain of cue sports academies set up by Sports Masters at top schools and universities in India. "We planned to take billiards and snooker to various schools across the country, promoting the sport at a grassroots level. Our plan is to go to various schools and start these sports program like we did in the Delhi Public School East in Bengaluru, where we started off a project. We also started another academy in the city at a club called East Cultural Academy (ECA). Tbuildndemic happened soon after that, and we couldn't move further with our plans. We are eagerly waiting for normalcy to come back. We just want to build the interest of this sport among school children and giving them all the facilities," said Advani.
Talking about the future of cue sports in India, Advani concluded, "There are a lot of youngsters who play cue sports in India, most of them consider it as a recreational sport. Many people also play it seriously. The national championships that are organised attract over 1,000 participants. Those numbers are steadily increasing. It's high time, the federation should thinking of televising the sport in the country and organise a league-style event like the IPL, which could be more helpful to popularise the sport and prove that it is a sport where careers can be built professionally."