Monday, 3 September 2012

Aditya Mehta EXCLUSIVE interview: "It was developing into such a great week for Indian snooker that I didn't want to mess it up."

Aditya Mehta has been the talk of the tour for large parts of this season.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Playing the second season of his second spell on the professional circuit, he's enjoying some great success. He's reached the final qualifying round of two events and also qualified for his first professional venue last month.

He's already looking forward to making his venue debut at the International Championship as he hits a great milestone in his career.

His progress this season is great news for him personally and is also helping put snooker on the map in his home country, India.

With former world billiards champion and fellow countryman Pankaj Advani making his tour debut this season and qualifying for the International Championship as well, discussions around India's snooker hopes have been on the tips of everyone's tongues.

Aditya took some time to talk to On Cue about his recent resurgence and a potential bright future for the game in India. 

Firstly Aditya, congratulations on your success. How does it feel to finally qualify for your first venue and see all your hard work come to fruition?

It's an excellent feeling. Every time I was asked about my goals, I always said that my first big aim was to qualify for a venue. I think it shows you have arrived as a snooker player, but I hope it's just the beginning. Now I want to focus on getting there consistently.

I couldn't have asked for any more so far this season. The International Championship is a big tournament with lots of ranking points. It should help get my name out there and realise my target to move up the rankings. I also reached the fourth round of qualifying for the Wuxi Classic and Shanghai Masters. It's been a good start, but now I have the belief to achieve even more.

I was always asking myself whether I was ready to qualify for a venue. I knew I wanted to but now I know I can achieve it as well. That's massive psychologically. I can't be complacent though. I want to keep improving and get to a few more big events this season.

How did it feel to qualify for your first venue at the same time as your fellow countryman Pankaj Advani? It was a great double success for Indian snooker. Does it make it more special for you as well?

It was a fantastic week. The pressure was really on during the qualifying campaign. Pankaj was playing all of his matches the session before me. He kept playing well and winning, so I tried to use it as motivation. It was developing into such a great week for Indian snooker that I didn't want to mess it up.

I was watching him deliver, so I wanted to match him. It drove me on.

A lot of people have been blogging and talking about you as a pair but what's your relationship with Pankaj actually like?

We have always been competitors. We were at each other's throats as juniors. We pushed each other. The majority of time he was the person pushing the rest of us to get better. He won the International Billiards and Snooker Federation (IBSF) World Snooker Championship 2003 in China at the age of 18. As a junior I hardly ever got a win over him. That made sure I kept pushing to get better. That's the relationship I've always had with him.

I've always been playing catch-up and trying to get to his level. At some point we levelled off, but I  can't remember exactly when that was. All of a sudden, I just started to get more wins off of him. This has given us a great level of respect for each other. We both know about each other's careers. I respect what he has achieved and maybe he respects me for what I've achieved in snooker over the past few years. Respecting someone and learning from them is a very special relationship. There's no jealousy between us. I'm always happy when he does well, but I want to do better than him as well.

You've got your trip to China for the International Championship to look forward to next month. Have you had time to think about how you'll approach playing at the venue?

I'm in a bit of a dilemma. I want to go there to enjoy it but I also want to do my game justice. Playing at a venue isn't going to be easy and the wildcard round makes it even tougher.

I've decided to go there with a mixture of trying to enjoy the occasion but also being smart about it. I want to make the most of the opportunity. No-one is going to say it's the biggest loss of my career if I don't get through the wildcard round, so it's about making the most of the experience and learning from whatever happens. This will help me to come back stronger the next time.

You've really pressed on with your game this season and enjoyed some excellent results. What do you think has made the big difference?

I've been a professional for a few years now. I don't think until this season I've really reached my potential. I always knew I was capable but maybe I wasn't mentally strong enough. I wasn't taking my form in practice onto the match tables. I don't think I was tactically good enough. Somewhere, something has clicked. I don't know why but I know I work hard and have earned it. I really want to carry that on. I want the results to keep coming, but all I can do is try my best.

Your confidence must be very high at the moment...

I'm loving it although there is an added pressure that comes when you win matches as well. I'm enjoying it so much that I don't want to slip down now. There's always two sides to the same coin. But that's something I have to deal with in my career if I'm going to be successful. I always go to matches these days thinking I am going to win. I'm not going just wondering if I'm going to do well or not.

I've won so many games that I really fancy it. Confidence is good. I've had a good run, but I'm not taking anything for granted. I know there's still a lot of work to be done. I'll keep working and hope to get more results.

How far do you think your game has improved?

I just have more belief in myself now. The more you win, the more that comes. It helps playing at the Star Academy in Sheffield as well. There are so many good players around me, which is fantastic for my development.

When people tell me I've improved, I respond. I like feedback from others. I've played a lot of matches on the stream this season and I've had lots of tweets and facebook messages. It gives me an extra perspective on my game. The comments have all been so positive that it's surprised me and built my confidence massively.

I've always been the kind of person to under-estimate myself. I'm never too confident in the past. I'm more of a realist. All the positive comments let me know I'm going in the right direction and give me a boost. It's great to be appreciated. That's the way I feel at the moment.

How is life in Sheffield?

I really enjoy it here. The Academy is great. There's no better place to be. I'm close to the qualifying venue, which is handy. I've also recently moved into my own apartment. I've been sharing flats with lots of different players over the past few years. This is my first time living alone. It's a big step for me, but my results prove I enjoy being here. Sheffield is a compact city that offers a chance to relax as well as enjoy yourself.

You seem to have an unshakable enthusiasm for the game. How do you maintain that?

It's something that has developed in me over the past six months. I'm just really happy with where I am at the moment. It's not necessarily down to just my form either. I'm  just content at what life is throwing at me. I've just changed the way I think about life. I accept things for the way they are.

Whether things are going wrong or right, I just want to get on with it and continue being happy regardless. It's an attitude I've learned to embrace and maybe it's working for me.

You always come across as a very dedicated player as well. How important do you think that attribute is in a snooker player?

I always work as hard as I can and put lots of hours in on the practice table, but I enjoy my free-time as well. I also focus on keeping physically fit and the mental side of the game. I'm working on all the aspects of being a good snooker player. Without hard work you're not going to get anywhere. So dedication is number one. The results will follow.

You talked about what other people think of you. But what do you think about your own game?

I've learned to play in a way that works for me and brings me success. You can't just go all out attacking, unless you're Judd Trump. I haven't got that quality.

I just look at my positives and try to make the most of them. I try to play to my strengths and get the most out of my game. I know I'm a good scorer in the balls. When it comes to pressure breaks, I know my focus is good and I can deliver. This isn't something I've deliberately been working on but it's a great strength to have.

I've also stopped stressing about things. I just try to be happy with how my game is right now and play for the moment.

My motto in life is to live in the present. That's how you have got to be on the table as well. You need to live for now and not let yourself be influenced by what has happened in the past or what might happen in the future. It's not good to think about the frames that have gone or are coming up. I just play the shots that are there and it seems to be paying off for me.

Let's move on to the relationship between snooker and India. You've recently been home to receive a national sporting award. Tell me more about that...

It was brilliant to head home, take a break and a great honour to be awarded the Arjuna award from the hand's of the president. It's the second most prestigious Indian award for outstanding achievement in sports.

It was spectacular. Myself and Pankaj both won the award. It's the first time in six years that the award has been won by someone in snooker or billiards. We've been suffering for a while, but it's a big boost. There were so many great Indian athletes there who had achieved special things at the Olympics and in other sports. I took the chance to get to know a lot of them. These sort of opportunities don't come along every day but I had some great conversations with some real national heroes.

I spoke with 2004 Olympic shooting silver medalist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, London 2012 badminton quarter-finalist Parupalli Kashyap, Dipika Pallikal who is ranked number 15 in the women's world squash rankings and Vijay Kumar who won shooting silver at London 2012. It was a fantastic experience. I was intrigued to hear more about how top Indian athletes think. We talked about our own sports and how our daily routines differ. Snooker is a lot different to other physical sports. The conversations I had acted more of an inspiration to me than anything else.

I know everyone I met has done so well in their sport and I listen to them because I want to do the same in snooker. The people who were there showed me that India can do well in sport if we put our minds to it. It's about belief. Indian sport in a position now where we believe we can be as good as the rest of the world.

What kind of reception did you get as a snooker player?

I hope by winning the Arjuna it can give snooker an edge when it comes to popularity. The game still isn't massively popular. People haven't woken up to it yet. If Pankaj and I can continue our good start to the season then I'm sure we'll keep moving in the right direction.

Pankaj is already really famous because he has been world billiards champion so many times. People recognise him a lot but, when it comes to snooker, people don't quite know what we're doing professionally. We'd probably have to move a lot further up the rankings to get that kind of recognition. You need a certain level of success before popularity builds for sports in India. It will be a while until snooker can really claim to be one of the top sports in the country, but we're on our way.

Does it give Indian snooker a bigger boost that you're both playing professionally now?

Yeah definitely, but it's still not enough. We cannot do it alone. We need more players to make an attempt to get into the PTCs and enter Q School. It's also important that we're not only both on the tour, but we're doing well. It's about how many wins we get and how far we can move up the rankings for the country. It's especially good that Pankaj has had such a great start to life in his first professional season. We all knew he had the ability, but he's gone way beyond the early expectations.

Does it excite you that you could be the person to start the snooker boom in India?

It's a mixture of excitement and pressure. I cannot control what happens in the future. I want to make the most of now and I don't want to get emotional about the future. I'm happy where I am now and that I'm challenging. I want to take it one day at a time. If what I achieve helps to take snooker forward in India, there won't be anyone happier than me.

Do you dream of a ranking event in India?

It's not just a dream. I think it's going to be a reality pretty soon. There's definitely not a lack of funding in the country. There are enough lovers of the game who want to make it happen. I can see it happening within the next couple of seasons. We already host loads of invitational events. All the players who come to India love it. The hospitality is great and it's something the snooker world needs to see.

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