The most entertaining version of snooker will greet the Indian fans when the Indian Open, a professional world ranking event, makes its debut here on Monday.
The star-studded field has some of the best in the business and they will showcase their skills over the next five days in the £300,000 tournament. The winner will get richer by £50,000, while the runner-up will take home £25,000.
Current World No. 1 Neil Robertson, two-time UK Championship-winning Chinese star Ding Junhui, four-time World title-winner John Higgins, former top-ranked cueist Mark Selby and the only player to bag the amateur and professional world championships Ken Doherty are expected to engage in some keen tussles for the top honour. For the Indian fans, professionals Pankaj Advani and Aditya Mehta, who came through the qualifying event, will provide some hope.
In the first round, Mehta plays former World and UK champion Peter Ebdon on Monday while Advani takes on Scottish player Marcus Campbell on the following day.
Besides, there are six Indian wildcards — Manan Chandra, Kamal Chawla, Sandeep Gulati, Shivam Arora, Faisal Khan and Dharmender Lilly.
Except Lilly — who got a walkover after Liam Highfield pulled out at the last minute — the other five will play a wildcard round in order to secure their places in the first round. Lilly will challenge Selby in his first outing.
Overall, seven players — Allister Carter (15th in the world), Anthony Hamilton (39th), David Gilbert (41st), Yu Delu (46th), Liam Highfield (71st), Tony Drago (82th) and Kyren Wilson (91st)— have withdrawn from the event due to various reasons.
For Chandra, who had turned pro for only one season, this would be his first professional event in 10 years. “The tables are different and the competition level is different. One will see more attacking games, good pots and big breaks. I have experienced the level of competition,” he said.
Eight-time World billiards champion Advani, the most recognisable face in Indian cue sports at present, had been learning new things in professional snooker.
He said there will be pressure on him while playing at home.
“There will be pressure of expectations. But the field is wide open, and there is equal chance of winning and losing a match,” said the World No. 70.
Mehta, a more experienced snooker pro, said he will take the Indian Open as another event on the calendar. “I do not want to take that moment away from them (family and friends).
“As far as the draw is concerned, I am not looking too far ahead and focusing on my first match against Ebdon,” said Mehta, ranked two slots below Advani.