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No plans to turn pro in snooker: Advani

Written by: Staff

New Delhi, Aug 30:  Having won the country's highest sporting honour, ace cueist Pankaj Advani today said he has now set his sights on the Doha Asian Games but ruled out the possibility of turning pro in snooker for the time being.

Pankaj, who was conferred with the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award by President APJ Abdul Kalam yesterday, spoke to UNI on his future plans and said despite becoming the youngest World Billiards Champion last year, there were areas he still needed to work upon.

''I have no plans to trun pro in snooker for now. The circuit is centered in England and I would have to shift there for at least eight months to become a pro, which is not possible for me. Adjusting there is tough despite the fact that the facilities and competition is really good,'' Pankaj told UNI.

The 21-year-old, who became the second youngest to win the country's highest sporting honour, meanwhile, is now preparing for the Asian Games in Doha this December. Pankaj said the award has come at just the right time and has given him the motivation to improve his performance.

''My next target is the Asian Games. I am concentrating on that for now and having won the Khel Ratna, I know the expectations are likely to be lot more. But I feel motivated by all the accolades and I am looking forward to improve myself,'' he said.

Asked if there were any weak areas he was working upon, Pankaj said despite all his achievements, the room for improvement was always there.

''I am working to improve my technique. I think there is always scope for improvement and as you move forward there are certain weak areas which need to be concentrated upon and I always look to improve myself,'' Pankaj elaborated.

Having just compeleted his graduation in commerce with 75 per cent marks, Pankaj said he had always managed to balance his studies with his passion for Billiards and has never found it that hard.

''When I first started playing Billiards, there used to be pressure to handle studies but gradually I adjusted to it. After all there are 24 hours in a day and there is a lot one can do. I always told myself that I had to score at least first division marks but thankfully I have always managed to do better,'' Pankaj said.

A visibly tired Pankaj, who came straight to Rashtrapati Bhavan after a 30-hour flight yesterday, said the tiredness had worn off after winning the award and he was feeling refreshed.

''The excitement of recieveing the award has kept me going. I was very tired yesterday but the sound of the National anthem in the background as I recieved the award refreshed me. It was such a proud moment that bing tired had no effect on me,'' he said. The ace cueist, who beat competition from Mahesh Bhupathi in tennis and Rahul Dravid in cricket to claim the Khel Ratna, said there was a system in place to choose the awardees and he was happy to have won it on his own merit.

''I think these awards are given on the basis of championship wins and I think according to the system in place, I got points for winning the World Championship. And I am very happy to win it on merit,'' he explained.

Pankaj also expressed his happiness at Anuja Thakur becoming the first woman cueist to win the Arjuna Award and said it augurs well for the future of the sport in the country.

''This is very good for the game. Obviously its about individual performances but two people from the same sport being recognised simultaneously is good for the future. In the end this means that the sport has won,'' he said, praising his female counterpart's achievement.

Talking about his immediate plans, Pankaj said he might go for a stint in England next month but is taking each day as it comes.

''I take it day by day. If you ask me about the future, I won't be able to tell you anything. I might go to England next month because the facilities are good there and the level of competition is also great,'' he said, revealing his immediate plans.

''Other than that I am just concentrating on the Asian Games for now,'' he said.

The former Arjuna awardee said more than the wins, its the loses that have helped him become a better sportsperson and felt that the challenge from Australia and England was the toughest he came across.

''Matches that you lose make you better. When I lose close matches, it helps me prepare better for the next event. The loses make you a stronger person. But that apart, competition from Australia and England is the toughest because the game is centered there,'' he said.

An admirer of ace cyclist Lance Armstrong, Pankaj said the American's strength of character inspires him despite the drug controversies that have plagued his career.

''I idolise Lance Armstrong. I think his strength of character is inspirational. And at a personal level I don't think he would take any performnce enhancing drugs. I think he is a champion and his life is inspiring,'' the cueist said.

Pankaj felt to make the Billiards more spectator friendly, it was important to take the game to grassroots level and introduce it in schools.

''Professional marketing is needed to promote the game. But at the same time, the game has to be promoted at the grassroot level.

We have to take it to schools and having seen the children's reaction to the game in some schools in Madhya Pradesh. I can tell you the youngsters will take to the game,'' he said.


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