Joining the professional circuit and honing his shots have made Aditya Mehta a player to look out for
Aditya Mehta is all deliberation at the snooker table, his manner of lining up shots a rehearsed, step-by-step process. Having settled into his stance, low, with chin tucked into left shoulder, he glares malevolently at the cue ball. All is still, save for his right arm drawing the cue back and forth, and the ring finger of his left hand drumming unconsciously on the table.
“I've always been a little obsessive about technique,” he says. “Every time I line up a shot I make sure that I get down on the line, that there's not too much gap between tip and cue ball, that I'm doing my three cueings, my pause — all that goes through my mind before every single shot. I think that works for me.”
It certainly has worked, judging by the high points Aditya's career graph has touched over the last year-and-a-half — notably the season spent in the U.K. playing on the WPBSA (professional) tour, having qualified thanks to a runner-up finish in the 2008 Asian Snooker Championships at Dubai.
“It's a whole different league of players, and you don't have the liberty of going through a round-robin and having a few easy matches to warm up,” says the 24-year-old Mumbaikar of the pro tour. “You're practically playing amateur world champions and Asian champions in the first round. You're either at your best from your first shot or you're not in the tournament anymore.”
Considering the intense level of competition, it wasn't a surprise that Aditya didn't make the top 72 — the cut-off for remaining in the frame for the next season. But the experience certainly enriched Aditya's game. He gained confidence as the season progressed, and made the third qualifying round three times — at the Royal London Watches Grand Prix, the Welsh Open and the China Open. In the second round at the Grand Prix, he made a break of 140, the highest in the tournament.
Since his return to India, he's also reached six straight finals in invitation tournaments, winning three of them. The most recent of these finals came last week at Alumni Club, where he lost to Yasin Merchant. Yasin, India's most successful professional, competed in six successive seasons in the 90s, attaining a highest ranking of 65. India hasn't had such a consistent representation on the pro tour since, with only Manan Chandra, who played the 2002-03 season, and Aditya following in Yasin's footsteps.
Aditya can't wait to qualify for the pro tour again. “I don't want to be playing all my life here, winning invitation events, not knowing if I was good enough to be a full-time pro.”
With many Indian players dividing their time between billiards and snooker, the decision to jump on the professional snooker bandwagon, involving the near-certain need to give up billiards, isn't easy for most. Aditya says billiards isn't on his list of priorities at all. “It's an awesome game as well, but it's just not my thing. My initial coaching was all billiards. I think knowledge of billiards is really important at the start. But as a career, I don't think billiards can give much. There is only one professional billiards tournament and only a limited number of tournaments in a year. A guy like Pankaj Advani — the only way he can make a living is if he wins all of them — can do it, and he's doing that. But if you can't, then it's a problem, unless you're employed with one of the oil companies or things like that. I don't see it as a career somehow. I think snooker's got much bigger scope.”
In an attempt to attract new audiences to the sport, snooker's governing body recently introduced the six-red format — six red balls on the table rather than 15, to ensure shorter frames.
In December, Aditya enjoyed a fantastic run at the inaugural Six-Red World Championships at Killarney, Ireland, reaching the last 16 after topping a group that contained (15-red) World Champion John Higgins. “That was an unbelievable experience — I beat John Higgins, and then went through to the last 64, beat a top-50 pro there, then beat Matthew Stevens, who's twice World Championship runner-up, in the last 32,” he says. “It was really great, not beating them, but just to play with them.”
What does he think of the new format?
“India would understand it as the T20 of snooker,” he says. “It's a really exciting format, but I'm still a bigger fan of the longer form. I now understand what people say about Test cricket, even if I don't understand it.”