Aditya Mehta,recently,became the first Indian in two decades since Yasin Merchant to score a win at the World Snooker Championshipon on the pro-circuit in UK. The Mumbai lad’s ultimate aim is to go deeper into competitive orbits at the Crucible home to the most important event in professional snooker,the World Snooker Championship in Sheffiled.
Returning from having won his maiden Asian Championships at Doha,Aditya Mehta spoke to Sportline about his ambitions as a rookie,inhibitions as a kid and aspirations in moving up the rankings ladder in a sport that has fanatical followers in pockets of Europe and China,but remains largely on the fringes of Indian sportscape.
How important was it to win your maiden Asian title?
It was massive relief,having lost the finals the last two times. If you lose twice,you start doubting yourself.
How satisfying was it to beat Advani?
In the beginning a s a junior,he would beat me often. In recent years,it’s been 50-50,but in the last two years,I’ve beaten him four times in a row. He’s been a former world amateur champ,so you couldn’t take him lightly in the title round. But he plays a very defensive game,so I knew he couldn’t surprise me on the table. I pretty much knew what he would play like and was quietly confident.
Advani’s been the face of cue sports over the last few years. Will we see that changing?
Face of cue sports,yes,because we tend to club together billiards and snooker. But now I can confidently say that I am the new face of snooker. No doubt,he’s a legend he’s won the Khel Ratna and everything that is to be won in amateurs,but with this win I have emerged out of his shadow. I’d beaten him at the Asians 6-1 two years ago,so I knew I could beat him. It was important I carved out my niche and it helps that I beat Pankaj in doing that.
This win catapults you right back onto the pro-tour with another stint of two years; excited?
The pro circuit was always the ultimate goal. Even the day after winning the Asians I wasn’t very euphoric. The first thought was I’m back on the pro tour,now what next. Hopefully,I crack the world’s Top 64.
How is the experience of playing on the pro circuit?
I’ve been to England a lot since 2008. It isn’t very uncomfortable staying away from home. I like being on the road. Anyway I’m pretty useless at home,and feel odd when I’m in Mumbai in between tournaments. Everytime I’ve gone there,I’ve improved game-wise and mentally,so I keep going back. I know if I live in India,I won’t improve significantly. The challenge is to constantly get better.
Describe the first win.
I started badly against the Welshman Andrew Pagget,who is very experienced and has played four rounds at the Crucible last time. I started shaky,wanting to get my first win,since I’ve never won at the Worlds. At 2-5 down,I was struggling and it got stressful. But at that point I stopped caring and worrying about what the world expects or what parents or coaches expect. I realised my only chance of winning was if I could enjoy my game. I sensed the momentum change immediately at 4-5,though he still held a 2 frame lead. But from 6-8,I levelled it to 8-8,and I guess that shook him up. After that I stuck to not making any stupid mistakes,and won 4 frames in a row.
What’s with the tendency to concede leads?
At the Nationals,I was 4-0 up,and then the opponent had levelled it to 4-4 and it felt like a disaster. I held my nerve and got a good break of 70 to hang on. Even in the last domestic tournament that I won,I was 4-0 up. I think the scoreline doesn’t suit me! My opponent again came up to 4-4,but I won 6-5. That proved I could handle pressure. Earlier,sometimes,I couldn’t finish matches when I was in command. The weakness was mental. But it taught me someting new. I needed to accept that I might lose,and it’s not the end of the world.
How important are the Asian Championships?
I’ve made the finals of the Asian Championships twice in the last three years,so that’s something I want to win this time. Then,there’s invitationals in Kolkata,Mumbai and Baroda. I’ll know in few weeks if I make the cut-off point of the pro circuit for the next season. The Asian championship is important to re-qualify,but if I lose my pro spot then I need to go back to the Amateurs. India has one nomination to turn pro,and according to the new guidelines you’ll be guaranteed two years minimum on the circuit. But we’ll know in some days. I like competing at events like Asian Games it’s one of the few opportunities to represent the country,and is recognized by the government. We have two Asian champs in Yasin and Alok,and I’d love to carry that baton. Sadly,cue sports might not stay on the Asian games programme from next time. Though we’re all keen it does.
Does your milder personality go against what’s expected of you as a competitor?
I don’t think I need aggression. I work well as a silent assassin. I don’t want to be known as someone who will intimidate you,because I know I can come and beat you. I’ve always been a careful person,and won’t give away too much by means of expressing to an opponent. I can’t claim to make opponents quake,but I am always quietly confident. Legends of snooker are a world apart from what we see in the country they play a different brand of snooker. Indians tend to be calculated and very defensive. Yasin was different because of his aggression. he’d never hold back and that I guess came with playing against teh top guys internationally. Indians usually lean towards cautious: we’re always told ‘Don’t make mistakes.’ I’m trying to get the right blend of the required aggression and what my temperament allows.
What’s it like to play at the Crucible?
It’s an incredible atmosphere. There’s about 1000 people watching,but it’s a very claustrophobic setting in the 30 ft X 30 ft room that gets people going. The game is so mental that anything in that room can play on your mind. And it’s so quiet,it can be scary. The crowd out there in UK is very knowledgable,and though the maximum players come from there,the actual massive viewership is in countries like Belgium and Germany. Even a 100-200 in India bring out the best in me,so that typical atmosphere is very inspiring.
Who are your sporting idols?
Ronnie O’Sullivan is the greatest talent I’ve seen and come across. I played him twice in tournaments,and he demolished me,which was a real eye-opener. There’s a few things I’ll do different next time I play him. Firstly,I’ll try and play carefree and not be scared. The last two times I was shaking and it’s incredible just how many silly mistakes you can make. I might not beat him,but I’ll definitely give him a better fight. In India,I look up to youngsters like Somdev Dev Varman and Saina Nehwal. They are showing the toughness to fight it out. Other than that leander Paes is a legend,and I’ve always been a Manchester United fan. Being from Mumbai,you have to support Mumbai Indians in IPL,there’s no choice!