New Delhi, Oct 13 (IANS) Pankaj Advani and Aditya Mehta will be carrying Indian hopes as they pit their skills against the world's best in the five-day inaugural World Snooker Indian Open professional ranking tournament commencing here Monday, offering a total prize-money of 300,000 pounds.
India's richest and biggest snooker tournament has attracted as many as five former World Champions with No.1 ranked Neil Robertson of Australia, the 2010 winner, heading the pack. The other former World Champions include John Higgins (1998, 2007, 2009, 2011), Mark Williams (2000, 2003), Ken Doherty (1997) and Peter Ebdon (2002).
Their presence and also eight of the top-10 should override the withdrawal of World No.15 Allister Carter, Tony Drago, Yu Delu, Anthony Hamilton, David Gilbert and Kyren Wilson.
Also in the mix are Asian players like 26-year-old World No.4 Ding Junhui and Marco Fu from Hong Kong, who is at No.9, besides a clutch of Thai players led by veteran James Wattana, who at 43 is ranked 65th.
While undoubtedly much of the attention will be on these stars, from India's perspective, Advani and Mehta, ranked 70 and 72, respectively, are the players to watch, not forgetting their compatriots -- Manan Chandra, Sandeep Gulati, Kamal Chawla, Faisal Khan, Shivam Arora and Dharmender Lilly -- who qualified for the six wildcard spots allotted to the host nation.
The 28-year-old Advani, in just his debut season on the professional circuit, has already made an impact by some splendid performances. He was a quarterfinalist at the Paul Hunter Classic in Germany beating Higgins and World No.24 Ryan Day before losing to Mark Selby, currently ranked second.
The Bangalorean faces 27th-ranked Marcus Campbell in his first round match Tuesday in their first meet.
"I have never played Marcus before but I know what a seasoned professional he is. We are both tactical players, so I'm sure it will be a really good battle. I have been happy about my game this season and I have been winning matches. So I am going into the Indian Open with confidence," said Advani.
Mumbai's Mehta goes up against 43-year-old Ebdon, World No.30. For Mehta, it is a huge occasion as for the first time he will be playing a pro match in front of his family. Lately, he has shown good form including a win over World No.8 Ricky Walden in a qualifying competition for the International Championship last week.
"I will be nervous and the first frame will be important because I will need to settle into the match quickly, especially as it's only best of seven. Peter is a former World Champion and he will be a very tough opponent. I won't feel pressure from the crowd because the only expectation comes from myself," said the 27-year-old.
"It's an important tournament for me and I know I'm capable of winning matches. My form overall has been good this season. I had a good run in the Paul Hunter Classic to the last 16 and won the gold at the World Games. So I have some momentum to take to India."
Robertson, who is on a hot-streak having won the Wuxi Classic in China and then finishing runner-up in the Australian Goldfield Open, starts off as the clear favourite for the winner's cheque of 50,000 pounds.
As well as the Aussie is playing, one cannot gloss over Junhui, who won the Shanghai Masters defeating Robertson 5-2 in the quarters and was runner-up to Mark Allen in the just-concluded Ruhr Open.
Fu, 36, stopped Robertson 9-6 in the Goldfield Open final and was a finalist in the Bluebell Wood Open on the European tour.
The depth of the field is reflected by the fact that the five European Tour events were won by as many different players.
Thus, the Indian Open promises some high octane action for the cue sport buffs as the event also puts the country on the road to becoming a major snooker destination.