Rarely does a sport become synonymous with an individual but Pankaj Advani has been just that to cue sports in India for a long time and this year was no different as he claimed a couple of more world titles to add to his legend. The 32-year-old has been juggling billiards and snooker quite efficiently for over a decade now. His performance, in fact, has come to define Indian cue sports and he lived up to expectations in 2017 as well, taking his world title count to 18.
In July, Advani led India A to a gold in the finals of the Asian Team Snooker Championship, held in Kyrgyzstan. The winning team comprising Advani, Laxman Rawat, and Malkeet Singh demolished Pakistan 3-0 in an exciting final.
Asked how it felt to outclass arch-rivals Pakistan, Advani brushed aside India's fiercest foe as any other opponent and focused on his first ever team trophy.
"Every opponent is equal for us. But the pressure and expectation of the people are a lot higher with Pakistan. If we are winning a tournament we would rather go out and beat the best to claim victory," Advani told PTI.
"It was extremely satisfying to win that event as it was the first time I was part of a team that lifted the championship trophy," he said.
Adding to his exploits globally, Advani also became the only Indian male cueist to hold the national billiards and snooker titles.
However, 2017 also saw other Indian players make a mark, with 40-year-old Vidya Pillai's silver medal at the World Women's Snooker Championship in Singapore being a high point.
She lost the match that went down to the wire to former World Champion Ng On Yee of Hong Kong.
MP's Kamal Chawla also made the nation proud by reaching his maiden finals in the World 6 Reds Snooker championship. Although he lost to defending champion Darren Morgan of Wales 6-4, Chawla gave a gritty performance to claim the silver medal.
But none came close to outshining Advani.
"I wish I could tell you how difficult it is to win in the two formats (billiards and snooker). Everyone specialises in only one - either billiards or snooker and even that it is hard to win. It is very challenging for me and it is such challenges that I look forward to in my career," the 32-year- old said.
In choc-a-bloc November, the focus shifted to the IBSF World Billiards and Snooker Championships in Doha and once again India's hopes were pinned on the Khel Ratna awardee.
Thriving under pressure, Advani added two more world titles to his collection in the span of just two weeks.
Advani clinched his 17th world title after he thrashed arch-rival Mike Russell of England in the IBSF World Billiards Championship.
In a masterclass, the Indian ace clinically constructed lethal breaks to completely dismantle his longstanding rival to defend the 150-up format title he had won in Bengaluru last year.
However, the 17-time world champion settled for bronze in the long-up format of the IBSF World Billiards Championship after losing to Russell, who he had defeated in the point format of the game earlier, in the semifinals.
After a memorable outing in the World Billiards with a gold and bronze, Advani had only a day to switch from the 3- ball game to snooker.
But Advani continued his good run by dishing out another superb performance to outclass Iran's Amir Sarkhosh in the final for yet another title.
His attacking game coupled with phenomenally tight safety play helped Advani secure his 18th World Championship title.
"I took a break in September and in October I started my preparations. I did my homework, I was very hungry for victory and it showed in the results," Advani said.
Indian cue sports have plenty to look forward next year with youngsters like Rawat and Singh making a mark at the international stage and Chawla gaining his footing.
As for Advani, he continues to be as eager and as hungry for titles as he has always been.
"I have not put a number on how many word titles I want to win. Putting a number limits oneself. I want to be relentless, someone who makes their own style as they go," Advani said.