How would you sum up the professional snooker season gone by?
I must say that I am extremely satisfied with the two years of being a professional. Being in England six months in a year as a foreigner is not easy. That I have been able to progress as a player and win matches against some really top players makes me extremely happy. I feel I have a certain ability to perform and do well over there. But more than that, more than the rankings, the results and numbers and statistics, it has been a journey of improvement. I have been able to improve myself as a player. I felt that when I was playing in India, I was stagnating a bit, especially in snooker. It was then I said I have to go England to hone my skills. I am glad I did it, even if it was for two years. I don't know what the future holds but I am really happy with the progress I have made.
Being a champion yourself, how tough is the professional snooker?
We are talking about snooker only. There is a way of playing the game which we will not realise when we stay in India. We have got to go out and play that kind of game with them. Initially, you are going to lose because you are raw. But over a period of time, you are going to learn. Some players have taken five years or 10 years to learn the professional game because it is a different ball game. Fortunately for me, I learnt really fast. In the first two or three months, I was able to perform at a very high level. There is a difference in the way they play. When you have so many tournaments throughout the year, when you have that much opportunity, prize money and the rewards that are equal to the effort, you want to give your best. Especially for the UK players, as they are playing at home. But for foreigners, funding becomes an issue, staying abroad becomes another issue. It is difficult for foreigners to make a mark and that is why you see only three Asians making a mark – Ding Junhui (4th rank) from China, Marco Fu (29th rank) from Hong Kong, James Wattana from Thailand.
How did you cope up with such challenges?
Even if you are not strong, when you go there and play with them away from home, it makes you tougher as a player and as a person. I am glad I went there, got tougher not only on the table but off the table also. Roughing it out, taking flights at weird hours, managing with food that is not to my liking, different time zones, going out of my comfort zone. To me, not just the game, but that part of me has also developed and I have actually become stronger. I am glad I chose to go there for two years. Who knows what is there in the future.
What are your goals for the coming season?
I am taking it one day at a time. I am enjoying playing billiards all over again. I would like to play more billiards tournaments that I missed out in the last one and a half years. Actually, I have not played the world championship for two years. I would like to definitely play some more billiards events, maintain the level that I have reached and try and up that as well. I am not a person who sets too many targets. I just take as it comes, go with the flow and see what happens.
Having played billiards before and being a champion, is it difficult to regain the touch in billiards?
Oh, it is different. Unfortunately, I don't think anyone will understand this except me. I have played billiards and snooker at the highest level and people will never understand how difficult it is to switch from one game to another. That has been my aim from the beginning. I wanted to play both billiards and snooker. I did not want to stick to one sport and do something totally unique.
What are your other interests?
I used to swim a long time ago. I am fond of dance, English and Hindi films, reading once in a while. Since I travel so much, I explore many places.
How keenly do you follow football?
I do follow the English Premier League a bit. I'm a big Manchester United fan. They had a disappointing season by their own standards. With the football World Cup coming up, I'd like to see Germany do well. I am a big supporter of Germany, especially Miroslav Klose, who is one of the highest scorers Germany have had. I am rooting for them and hopefully they do well.
Since you have been in England for two years, did you catch up with any Premier League game live?
I did go once to see Manchester United play Everton late last year. Unfortunately, Man United lost (0-1). It was an electrifying atmosphere, 75,000 people in one stadium. I don't think any sport can get bigger than that in the world. Not even the IPL, not even basketball in America. That was massive. It was amazing. It was so well organised, there was no jostling around, everything was systematic. The match was played under lights. It was a beautiful atmosphere.
Will you watch live World Cup football?
Of course the World Cup is something that will generate a lot of interest. I will try and watch a few matches, not every one of them. I am also looking forward to the French Open in tennis. It will be interesting to see if Rafael Nadal actually wins another French Open. There are a lot of doubts over that. It will be interesting to see what happens. I will catch up with French Open more than anything else.
Are you a Nadal fan or a tennis fan in general?
I am more of a Roger Federer fan. Actually, only a Federer fan. Because there is a certain grace and poise with which he plays the game and you don't see any other athlete do that. For me, when you play sport, it is about playing the game beautifully and with an easy style. Nadal is very mentally tough and, of course, he has got positive qualities. But for me, Federer is the ultimate.
You would have had chance to interact with other sports stars, haven't you?
I do know a few Indian sportspersons across a few disciplines. Shooters Gagan Narang, Abhinav Bindra, Olympian swimmers Shikha Tandon and Nisha Millet besides a few others. It is nice to know what they go through as well in their journey, in their careers. Sometimes, when we play our game and we face with some difficulties, we think we are the only ones who are going through those hardships. But all the Indian sportspersons are finding it very difficult. They do find it difficult at some stage or the other. It is nice to interact with them.