Hometown pro Advani the cynosure

Hometown pro Advani the cynosure

Bengalurean looks to defend his two national crowns

Hometown pro Advani the cynosure

Coming off a stupendous season where he showed his insatiable hunger for success, ace cueist Pankaj Advani starts firm favourite for another double triumph when the National Billiards and Snooker Championships proper kicks off here on Tuesday.

Having won pretty much everything the sport has to offer -- not once but multiple times -- Advani laid the foundation for another glorious year last January when he secured both the national billiards and snooker titles in Pune.

From there on, he just went about collecting titles as if he was shopping in a mall. He won the Asian Billiards Championship for a sixth time in April and agonisingly fell short of a continental sweep, losing in the final of the Asian Snooker Championship a few weeks later. In July, he teamed up with Malkeet Singh and Laxman Rawat to clinch the Asian Team Snooker Trophy to enjoy a fruitful opening half.

He then kicked several gears up in the second half of the season. Playing with determination, the 32-year-old trounced arch-rival Mike Russell to successfully defend his IBSF World Billiards (point format) title. Advani's quest for a double however didn't come to fruition after Russell exacted revenge by ousting him in the semifinals of the long format. Advani though bounced back strongly in the Snooker Championship, winning it for a record third time and taking his world titles tally to an astounding 18.

"It feels great to have had such a wonderful season. It gives you plenty of confidence when you kick-start another one," Advani told DH. "The Nationals are returning to Bangalore after 11 years and it feels great to be playing at home and that too at the KSBA. At every Nationals my first aim is to finish within the top-3 so that I qualify to represent the country at various international events. However, that pressure wouldn't be there because of the two world and two Asian titles that I hold now. Having said that, there is no room for complacency and I'm here to try and defend my two national titles. National championships have always had a special place in my heart and the hunger to win is still raw."

Advani will first focus on retaining his billiards crown -- his main love -- where he is expected to face competition from long-time rival Sourav Kothari, who is playing with a newfound confidence, former world champion Rupesh Shah, dangerous Dhruv Sitwala and the steely Alok Kumar.

The billiards event concludes on Jan 15 and a week later snooker starts. The competition is expected to be much stiffer there. Apart from the names mentioned above, seasoned cueists like Brijesh Damani, Manan Chandra and Lucky Vatnani will look to climb the podium. Young talent S Shrikrishna, who completed a clean sweep of the Sub-junior and junior championships last month here, will be looking to showcase his talent.

Like Advani, Amee Kamani, the defending snooker and billiards champion, is the cueist to beat in the women's championship that will kick off only on Jan 20. A late starter, Amee has taken the Indian cuesports by storm and she will be hoping to further strengthen her grip. Seasoned practitioners Vidya Pillai and Chitra M,  as well as youngsters Varsha Sanjeev and Keerthana P, would be looking to break the Amee hold.

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