Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Advani's Asiad gold was high point for cue sports in 2010

Pankaj Advani
NEW DELHI: Pankaj Advani, the 'smiling assassin', was yet again cynosure of all eyes with his gold medal win at the Guangzhou Asian Games but overall it was an average year for the Indian cueists as titles eluded them at the major international events. 

The build up to the Asiad was rocky for the seven-time World champion Advani due to slump in form. 

The 25-year-old Bangalorean failed to defend his IBSF World titles in Pune this year, losing to Mike Russell in the final of the time format and semifinals of the points format. 

At the World Professional billiards event at Leeds, Advani was defeated by Dhruv Sitwala in the quarterfinals and was not in the best frame of mind going into the Asian Games in November. 

But, the 'golden boy' of Indian Billiards and Snooker defied all odds and roared back strongly, opening India's gold medal account at the quadrennial event. 

The 2006 Doha Asian Games champion Advani defeated Nay Thway Oo of Myanmar 3-2 in the summit clash in men's Billiards singles to add another milestone to his glittering career. 

For the modest and shy Advani, winner of seven World IBSF titles and three-time Asian championship, the journey to final at the Asian Games was enthralling. 

The other cueists also took inspiration from Advani's stupendous feat and went on to swell India's medal tally at the event with the trio of Yasin Merchant Merchant, Aditya Mehta and Brijesh Damani bagging the silver medal. 

In the individual Snooker event, Aditya won the bronze after losing his semifinal match to Marco Fu of Hong Kong 1-4 to take the cuesports' contingent tally to three medals, the number of medals India won at the Doha edition. 

But the icing on the cake was provided by Alok Mehta, who became the first Indian to win an Asian Games medal in pool events by bagging a bronze though he lost his semifinal contest 5-7 against Kuo Po-Cheng of Chinese Taipei. 

For the Indian cueists, the year started on a high-note with Advani defeating Singapore's Peter Gilchrist 6-5 to win the 2010 Asian Billiards championship in April. 

Eight-time world champion and veteran Geet Sethi, Rupesh Shah and Ashok Shandilya made the quarterfinal grade. 

The next challenge came at the Asian Snooker Championship in Thailand, where country's first professional snooker player Yasin Merchant failed to cross the semifinal hurdle and finished fourth, losing to Issara Kachaiwong of Thailand 6-2. 

In the prestigious Australian Open Billiards Championship held in Melbourne, title once again eluded the Indians where Sethi and Saurav Kothari finished as semifinalists. 

The story got no better for cueists in the inaugural Sangsom 6Red World Snooker Championship in Thailand where Merchant and Manan Chandra failed to qualify for the knockout stage after losing all group-stage matches. 

The start of the new season in August could not lift the gloom as Advani failed to defend his title in both the Point and Time format, losing to legendary Qatari cueist Mike Russell in the final of the time and semifinal of the point format respectively. 

In the same championship, Sethi impressed with his aggressive and fearless approach towards opponents, ending as bronze medallist in both time and point formats. 

In October came the World Professional Billiards Championship in Leeds, UK - one of the biggest events in the world of cuesports - where defending champion Advani suffered a shock quarterfinals defeat against compatriot Dhruv Sitwala. 

Advani had become only the second Indian after Geet Sethi to lift the coveted trophy in its 139 years of history last year, defeating nine-time world champion Russell. 

Sitwala came agonisingly close to a title win but his gutsy potting and cushion work didn't yield enough to prevail over tough Russell in the summit clash, which he lost 1204-1738. 

Sitwala emerged as one of the promising boys, defeating David Causier of England, countrymates Ashok Shandilya and Sethi en-route to the final. 

Sethi won the bronze medal after finishing third in the event, losing his semifinal clash to Sitwala. 

After the success of Asian Games, Advani headed for the IBSF World Snooker Championship held in Damascus, Syria last week with an aim to finish the year on a high. 

Looking to win the IBSF World Snooker crown for the second time in his career after the first title triumph in 2003 in China, Advani reached the finals but could not overcome a spirited challenge from Dechawat Pomajaeng of Thailand, losing 7-10 in the best-of-19 frames summit clash. 

Advani had defeated some big names such as Rodney Goggins of Ireland 7-4 in the semifinal, while got the better of Moh Keen Hoo of Malaysia 6-1 in the quarterfinal. 

At the national level, the 2006 Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna awardee Advani won the inaugural edition of Indian National 6-Red Snooker Championship in March, beating Brijesh Damani 8-7 in the best of 15 frames final. 

At the National Billiards and Snooker Championship , he failed to defend his billiards title, losing 4-5 to veteran Alok Kumar but successfully defended his Snooker title for the fourth time. 

Women cueist Tamil Nadu's Vidya Pillai also had her share of glory in the year passed by as she won Australian Open Women Snooker Championship and 19th National Snooker Championship. 

She also ended runner-up in the first National 6-Red Snooker (Women) Championship and National 8Ball Pool Championship and managed a semifinal finish in the 19th National Billiards Championship. 

Maharashtra's Meenal Thakur won the National Billiards Championship and 6Red Snooker (Women) Championship and ended runner-up at the National Snooker Championship.

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