"The maahol of the billiards room attracted me to the game — the atmosphere of the room is so posh, the billiards table and most of all, the air-conditioning was what made me take up the game!"
That is two-time world billiards champion Rupesh Shah at his candid best — and believe it or not, when he says it in Gujarati, you just break into laughter.
"When I saw players on the badminton court sweating it out... I thought all that doesn't happen in a billiards room! he adds."
The Amdavadi is currently riding high on his second world title after beating Australia’s Matthew Bolton 6-2 in the final of the World Billiards (point frame). With that win, he also became only the fifth Indian cueist to lift the world title twice.
But Shah comes across as so jovial and down-to-earth that it's hard to believe he's currently among the best players in the world in his sport.
Recounting a funny anecdote about how he first took up the cue when he was 15-years-old, Shah says: "It was my brother who started playing first. I remember he chhupke chhupke sneaked me into the billiards room because people under 18 were not allowed in there. That is when he started training me in the game."
After winning his first title in 2007, Rupesh had to wait for five years to bring home the world championship trophy again. He explains: "The point format is a game of chance and the competition is very hard at the world level. The difference this time was that I capitalised on all my chances. I was also quite confident. I won a bronze in 2009, but I admit my game had fallen back a bit in those five years. I used the domestic tournaments to boost my confidence again. And now I'm back."
He also acknowledged Geet Sethi's contribution to his career. "He has always backed me. I had taken a different track in these past few years but he convinced me to keep going in billiards."
With so much cricket, football and tennis happening, billiards is always going to be a poor cousin to the mainstream sports. But Rupesh knows what it takes to convince youngsters to take up the game. "Tell me one thing: how many players take up cricket and make it big? In cricket, you also need some influence to get in. Tennis is also an expensive sport. So I think at a school level, billiards won't take a lot of convincing to take up. Also, petroleum companies like ONGC are backing a lot of players now."
He adds that the scouting network in billiards is pretty good and youngsters are being snapped up quickly — something which is vital for success in any sport. "The national tournaments are scouted and the youngsters are already given jobs at companies so that they represent them at billiards."
Talking about how he prepares for tournaments, Rupesh says he used to do a lot of yoga and meditation to build his patience, but now he just needs a romantic film to relax his mind. "I don't do yoga and meditation anymore... patience comes with experience. But I watch a romantic film the night before a big game."
Finally, he lets us in on every sportsman's weird superstition. "In 2007, I wore one blue shirt throughout the tournament. This time out, I wore one black shirt throughout and won... so that's my superstition."
And yes, it seems to be working.
Updated Date: Oct 31, 2012 11:08:10 IST