ADITYA Mehta believed India needed at least one player earning a place in the draw of the Indian Open by right – the same could be said for having a man in the last 32.
The 29-year-old Mehta , India’s sole tour professional, reverted to his role as standard bearer once all six wild-cards including Pankaj Advani perished at the first hurdle.
Mehta’s 4-3 win over Mark King, who recovered from 3-0 down to test the home hero’s mettle in a decider, sets up a tough test on Thursday night against this season’s International Championship winner Ricky Walden.
But with India looking to build on its cuesports heritage, notably in billiards, by bringing through talent and generating interest in the 15-reds game world No50 Mehta’s progress was welcome and symbolic.
He may or may not match the feats of last season in reaching the final, but victory completed a memorable day for Mehta after he was given honorary life membership of the prestigious Cricket Club of India in Mumbai for his World Games gold medal two years ago.
Mehta said: “The pressure is out there, you know that – but I didn’t feel it once I got into the arena. I have played well and lost a lot this season and it could have happened again today.
“There is no glory in going out in the first match here, which is essentially the first round even if we won a match to be here. So the first-round win is huge, also to prove something to myself as well as the people watching.
“I know it carries a symbolism over and above the match. When you’re out there in the decider you can think ‘what happens if I lose it’, but apart from a missed black to win it much earlier I wouldn’t have had many regrets.
“The life membership was a great honour, it is a prestigious club and many famous people have received it. It is basically for world champions, or those who have succeeded at that world level.”
While Mehta was doing his bit for India, China’s talisman and defending champion Ding Junhui earlier suffered another damaging and demoralising defeat – this time 4-3 to enigmatic Thai Thepchaiya Un-Nooh.
The contrast in performance level and results between last season and this for the world No4 is little short of astonishing.
A glance at the one-year money list tells you that Ding currently stands no higher than 27th with just £44,500 earned in ranking tournaments to date.
Following last term’s record-equalling five ranking titles, this season has yielded just a semi-final at the Shanghai Masters. In addition there have been lost qualifiers for Wuxi and Chengdu, and early exits at the UK, in Berlin, Cardiff and now Mumbai. Ding chose not to go to Australia.
Admittedly there was also a semi-final at the non-ranking Champion of Champions, but it has been a grim few months. On the plus side ‘new Ding’ appears relatively cheerful about it all.
But he will not want to arrive at the Crucible next month for his latest World Championship tilt, a venue where his record is far from impressive, in wretched form.
And there may be problems in store 12 months from now in terms of ranking position if things do not improve, with all that prize money from 2013/14 to come off.
Photograph courtesy of World Snooker