Pankaj Advani is the 2009 World Professional Billiards Champion. In a surprising one-sided five-hour final, the 24-year-old outclassed the 41-year-old Mike Russell 2031-1253 to end a remarkable domination by the Englishman, who now lives and represents Qatar.
Russell, who has won the title a record nine times and has been in the finals 17 times had given early glimpses of not being at his best in the last two matches.
Against Rupesh Shah, he had struggled for most part of the four-hour match only to find his touch in the second session in which he scored heavily to edge out Shah. In the quarterfinal against B. Bhaskar as well he had trailed initially only to come good towards the end.
But on Sunday afternoon he did not have the resolve left to make a comeback after Advani punished him in the opening hour of the contest with runs of 132, 93, 170, 91, 226, 93 and 101.
Against other lesser-fancied opponents, Russell was never put under this kind of severe pressure. His deficits were always within 300 points. Visibly shaken by the ferocious start by his young opponent, Russell succumbed to the demons in his own mind.
In the last 20 years, never have I seen him so upset and frustrated at his own inability to reproduce the game which he knows so well. A solitary 193 on the 11th visit revealed his inability to score heavily and also revealed his fragile state of mind. The mid-match interval saw Advani with a commanding 1070-418 advantage.
That 600-point lead may not have been decisive but it provided a huge psychological boost to the Indian. After losing his league match against Dhruv Sitwala, Advani’s progress into the final had been accomplished with hard, last minute victories against David Causier in the quarterfinals and against Dhruv Sitwala in the semifinals.
Best for the last
Deep down he knew that against Russell he would need to dominate the match from the start and that’s what he did. And this has been Advani’s greatest strength. He paces himself in the big tournaments and manages to save the best for the last.
On the resumption, it was Russell who gave the first indication of a revival of form. A 100 and 219 on the 9th and 12th visits reduced the deficit somewhat but Advani replied the 100 with a 97 thus negating most of the damage. The Indian then launched into three decisive breaks of 136, 147 and 106 in the 16th, 20th and 21st visit to finally seal the match in his favour.
Russell’s form deteriorated even further after this and from then on it was just a case of playing out time. With this win, Advani holds the enviable record of being the current World Professional billiards champion, current IBSF World billiards champions, The Asian Games billiards champion, The Asian billiards champion and the National billiards champion. It is a phenomenal achievement to simultaneously hold all titles that the sport has to offer. And, all this at the age of 24.
Russell was gracious in defeat and said “Pankaj is young and hungry and is a great potter. He doesn’t care where the balls go. He can recover from any situation.”
Indeed, Advani’s greatest strength, which is by now well documented, is his mental strength. Most of his world titles have been won from precarious situations when he has produced outstanding billiards to win towards the end.
With this kind of mind and a game to match, and youth on his side, one can only see him get better.