The growing competitive nature of sport has seen athletes start their professional career as early as 15-16 years of age. That being said, there are certain sportspersons, who pick up a sport late in their career, only to flourish after decades of internship.
Current Asian Billiards Champion, Dhruv Sitwala from India fits perfectly into this category.
Unlike his compatriots, who transitioned across various age groups to eventually ‘turn pro,’ Sitwala is a self-proclaimed late bloomer. Picking up the sport at the age of 22, he peaked close to a decade later by reaching the 2010 World Snooker Championship.
This particular event saw Sitwala defeat three former World Champions, en-route to the final. He would eventually go onto lose to Mike Russel, another former world champion.
In the 2015 Asian Championship, Sitwala defeated the poster boy of Indian billiards, Pankaj Advani. A monumental achievement, considering the fact that Advani has lifted the world title a whopping 10 times.
A series of consistent performances over the past few years has now seen, Sitwala not only fighting to become one of the best in India, but also the world. Sportskeeda caught up with Sitwala to discuss his Asian Championship victory, the Indian cue sports scenario and the importance of never giving up.
Q. Firstly, congratulations on your victory, how was the entire experience?
This is my first major international title and it‘s a great feeling, also defeating a great player like Pankaj Advani makes it even better. I was a bit nervy going into the final, considering the number of times I have lost to Pankaj before, but it all worked out well at the end. Memories of the previous losses did come back, but I just kept my focus on the game and I won the most important match of my career.
Q. Since Cue Sports is not one of the so called ‘mainstream’ sports in India, when did you pick up the sport?
I used to play a lot of Squash when I was young and I used to go to the Billiards room to cool off. It’s there where I first saw the game and picked it up. Then my friends started playing and I started playing well.
So, after two to three years, I decided to take some coaching from the legendary Wilson Jones. After three months of training, I practiced whatever we discussed on a regular basis and eventually started playing seriously.
Q. How important were the domestic events in training you for the international level?
Well, I am yet to win a national finals, so that clearly indicates the amount of competition present in India. The country is clearly one of the top ranked teams in the world and has a solid crop of players, who can produce magical billiards at anytime. It has helped me immensely. In fact, the National Championship held in Kolkata this year, I reached the final, only to lose out to Advani.
Q. Despite India being among the top three teams in the world in Cue sports, why hasn’t the popularity drive kicked off yet?
It’s no hidden fact that most of the Indian sporting screen space is dominated by cricket and most of the other sports don’t get a chance. However, I also think that cue sports is not a very spectator friendly sports because it’s so technical. But, the Federation is trying really hard, they have already reduced it to a 100 point game and Cue Slam league is imminent.
Q. Do you think the upcoming Cue-Slam league will be a success?
It has all the ingredients for a commercial potboiler, also considering the growth of the league system in India it seems to be only a matter of time. It is scheduled to begin in July some time.
Q. Your friendship with Pankaj Advani seems to have helped your game immensely, are there aspects of the game, which you discuss with each other?
Firstly, Pankaj is a great friend, in fact he is like a brother to me. The greatest aspect about him is the ability to stay calm and of course the humility. While talking to him, you won’t even realise that he is a 10-time world champion. Even during a game, there will be a point of time where you think he will crumble under pressure, but he just takes it in his stride and comes back.
Even in the final, he almost made a comeback, but I held on for the victory.
Q. If we had to rank India’s position in the world billiards/snooker scenario, where would we be?
We are easily the second best team in the world, behind England. Australia and Singapore also have some decent teams, but with the number of trophies we have been winning, India has shown the world that they are among the world’s elite.
Q. Which are the most memorable moments of your career?
This, definitely, then back in 2010, when I defeated Geet Sethi, Pankaj Advani and Praput from Thailand, it was a fabulous streak, especially considering the fact that they are world champions. Also, in 2003, playing my first ever National Championship, I reached the finals , only to lose out to Alok Kumar.
Q. This has definitely been the golden generation for Indian cue sports, with so many top competitors regularly vying for top honours, is the upcoming batch as good?
Most definitely, from the top of my head I can think of two to three players, who are on the verge of being world class competitors. Whether they can manage to maintain the discipline, only time will tell, it takes close to eight hours of practice every day to reach the top.
The likes of Ishpreet Chadha, Dhwaj Haria and Aditya Agarwal have a bright future ahead.
Q. How is the sponsorship scenario for Indian cue sports like?
The Federation has worked really hard to grow the sport. Yes, the lack of private sponsors has always been an itch, but the amount of effort put in by corporations, especially the likes of ONGC and IOC has really helped the sport in a big way.
Q. So what’s next for Dhruv Sitwala?
There are three tournaments coming up, the Canadian Open also known as the Americas Cup, the Australian Open and the World Championship in Leeds. I also have one eye on the National Championship as I am yet to win the title. So, the calendar is pretty much packed!Published 27 Apr 2015, 19:04 IST