That Pankaj Advani gives tough competition to his opponents on the green baize is renowned. Yet, the 16-time world champion is also a softie at heart! So much so that when Pankaj was the head boy at Frank Anthony Public School in Bengaluru, he wouldn’t report students to the principal when they forgot to wear badges. He would instead give them money to buy new badges from the school shop. The billiards and snooker wizard recently won his 11th World Billiards Championships by beating Singapore player Peter Gilchrist. This is Pankaj’s 16th world title overall. The ace cueist also won the national title in 6-red Snooker in December.
It was at the age of 10, when his brother Shree took him to a snooker parlour, that the seeds of interest in the cue sport were sown. The red ball went into the pocket the very first time he played and since then, there has been no stopping him. His brother Shree is now his sport psychologist. Talking about winning his 16th world title, Pankaj says, “It’s a wonderful feeling to win at home, in front of the home crowd. Winning the 16th title in 2016 — it couldn’t get any better.”
In terms of the season ahead, what are his main targets and ambitions? “I will always want to keep the Indian flag flying high. The year has just ended, and I’m extremely glad to have ended it on a high. I will concentrate on one tournament at a time. I will continue improving how I play, and maybe give back to the game one day. I would like to coach youngsters and inspire them. Most importantly, I will try to evolve as a human and a sports person,” says the champion.
On maintaining consistency, Pankaj mulls, “Winning consistently is important because at the end of the day, people look at the results. I’m not going to win each time, but it’s good to experience the high after working hard. Losing helps too — it’s like a reality check. But it’s important to maintain consistency. In comparison, if you look at Bollywood, four to five actors give hits continuously, maintaining standards.”
What is the highlight of his career? “Winning the first world title at the age of 18, in 2013, in China, was the best (moment). I was just a youngster and it was Diwali — I’ll always remember that day,” he says.
Does the world champion ever feel nervous? “Oh yes! I’m nervous before every match. You need to have butterflies in your stomach to keep you on your toes. You must understand the importance of every game and not take it casually. I’ve been casual earlier, and not performed well,” he reveals, adding, “I don’t believe in perfection. We are all humans with imperfections. I must control my anxiety and try to get enough sleep. I’m working on that right now.”
So, what’s the funniest thing he’s experienced during a match? “The claws on the table have to be kept clean. One day, I saw pigeon feathers coming down on the table. We had to stop the game for half an hour and clean the table. I took it with a pinch of salt and began concentrating on the game.”
Fitness is important for any sportsman, and Advani is totally committed to his regime, “Fitness is key, even in cue sports. Apart from mental strength that helps you focus, it’s important to stay physically fit. Your legs and back need to be strong. I go to the gym every day. And, physical fitness helps you get mentally fit (as well).”
Does the cue wizard play other sports? “I love bowling, though I’m not good at it. I like table tennis. I also like watching Roger Federer play tennis. But then I think my aim is better on a table,” he laughs.
Where does he see cue sports in the next 10 years? “A lot of youngsters are playing them these days. But then, I think there should be more television coverage. There should be more facilities and they should be made more accessible to the people,” he says.
His free time is probably a space where he unwinds, and takes a much-needed breather, “I love watching movies. I just watched Dangal. It is the most authentic movie ever made. I’m also a huge Batman fan. I’ve watched all the Christopher Nolan movies on Batman. I know the dialogues by heart!” beams Pankaj. He concludes by thanking his mother: “My family was apprehensive in the beginning when
I started playing. But my mom has been very supportive. Family support is crucial.”