Spotlight on Advani, Mehta

Spotlight on Advani, Mehta

Pankaj Advani and Aditya Mehta will be attempting the impossible while a clutch of world champions would be gunning to leave their imposing footprints when the inaugural World Snooker Indian Open gets underway here on Monday.

The irrepressible Advani has been the flag-bearer of cuesports in the country for the last decade or so, racking up eight world titles. But, the stiffest test of his life will come when the 28-year-old takes cue on Tuesday against seasoned campaigner Marcus Campbell.

Predominantly a billiards player, Advani has made a smooth transition to pro snooker last year, conjuring some impressive victories over former world champions and the Bangalorean, ranked 70th, will have to draw upon every bit of his skill and big-match temperament if he desires to create history.

So far, the best performance by an Indian at a ranking event has been a quarterfinal appearance, which Advani achieved at the Welsh Open where he knocked out three champions -- Peter Ebdon, Shaun Murphy and Graeme Dott. Known to draw great strength from passionate home crowd, one would be hoping for another Advani magic, or maybe a miracle, at the 300,000-pound event.

Mehta, who also plies his wares on the pro tour, will be sharing the burden. Unlike Advani, Mehta has been handed an unforgiving opener against 2002 World Champion Ebdon on Monday. However, the Mumbaikar has been in impressive touch off late, winning the singles bronze medal at the Asian Indoor Games in July before nailing the gold at the Word Games in Cali.

Mehta, ranked 72nd, also qualified for the prestigious International Championship in Wengdo, China -- even Advani has qualified -- and the 27-year-old will be looking to cash in his recent good form.

While Advani and Mehta have their task cut out, the leading contenders for the five-day bash are John Higgins, Mark Williams, Neil Robertson, Ebdon, Ken Doherty and the Chinese sensation Ding Junhui. Just like Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis and Ronnie O’Sullivan -- who is not competing here -- Higgins has an aura around him. With four world crowns and 25 ranking titles, the awesome tactician and break-builder starts as the favourite at every tournament he starts, and things won’t be any different here for the Englishman.

Williams, the first left-handed world champion, has been on a two-year title drought (rankings events only) and the Indian Open offers him a great chance to break that. Known for his exceptional touch, double world champion Williams would be looking to regain that silken flow.

The man in form is current World No 1 and 2010 World Champion Neil Robertson. The first Australian and third non-British player to win the coveted crown, Robertson started off on a high, winning the season-opening Wuxi Classic. A southpaw like Williams, Robertson was in terrific form last season when he reached four major finals before signing of as World No 2.

Ding had a patchy last season but the Chinese prodigy capped it brilliantly by pocketing the 2013 PTC Grand Finals. Winner of six ranking titles, the 26-year-old is more than a dark horse.

The beauty of this event, that also has several top players like Mark Selby, Marco Fu, Stephen Maguire, in attendance, is that it will be played in the best-of-seven frames format until the final which provides a chance for the lesser ranked players to cause a surprise or two. While that may create a flutter or two, a trusted name looks likely to be the last man standing.

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