Confident, calm and assured, the seasoned duo gave no room for complacency as they dismantled their respective opponents in crushing fashion to get their campaign off to a roaring start at the Karnataka State Billiards Association hall.
Among the first ones to kick off proceedings in the tournament that returned to the cue sports capital after a 24-year-old gap, Advani oozed class as he swept aside little known Japanese Astutoshi Inoue 4-0 (71-0, 89-10, 78(56)-4, 76-21) in just over an hour.
Returning to the table five hours later for the evening session, the 26-year-old instantly hit top gear, racing past Egypt’s Yaser Elsherbiny 4-0 (85-8, 80-26, 105-35, 69-62) to wrap up his day on a scintillating note.
Merchant, who will be retiring from competitive action following this tournament, showed why he is considered one the best exponents of snooker in the country with a vintage performance that all but secured his passage into the knockout stage.
The 44-year-old two-time Asian champion first cruised past Libya’s Khaled Elbakosh 4-0 (81-30, 92-5, 107 (90) -19, 85-14) before handing out a lesson to Sweden’s Bairaq Al-Urfy, ripping apart the teenager 4-0 (67-51, 76 (76)-0, 67-60, 83 (83)-0) to the delight of the miniscule audience that gathered to see the veteran Mumbaikar play. Enduring one of the worst times since 2003 that has seen him with go without an international this calendar year, the current world event offers Advani the last chance to correct that aberration and he very much appeared determined to do so.
Advani took a while to settle down, and once he did, the seven-time world champion was unstoppable. Although he did not string together massive breaks, he was very much in command from the start to the end, hardly allowing the Japanese any breathing space.
After galloping away with the opening two frames, Advani conjured a break of 56 in the third frame with a superb display of top table play, potting seven blacks in succession that literally knocked out Astutoshi’s hopes of making a fist of the challenge. A break of 31 helped Advani take a 56-7 lead in the fourth and he kept the pressure on Astutoshi by sinking 20 points in scattered manner to seal the deal.
Talented underachiever Manan Chandra also made a promising start to his campaign while all-rounder Alok Kumar had an indifferent day in the office. Chandra drubbed United States’ Ahmed Aly Elsayed 4-0 while Alok bounced back from an opening frame loss to beat Mongolia’s Sergelen Batdelger 4-1 in the morning session before going down 0-4 to the impressive Lee Walker of Wales.