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Close on the heels of making a dream comeback after battling a career-threatening neck injury, cueist Aditya Mehta has now decided to put his health ahead of snooker, saying it is more important to balance the 'mental' frame of mind and set priorities right in order to continue performing at the top level for a long time.
Mehta had severe neck pain since 2014 but the 34-year-old never went for a long term treatment as he did not want to stop playing.
This was the phase in his career when Mehta was at his peak. He had reached the final of the 2013 Indian Open, scored the coveted maximum break of 147 points in the Paul Hunter Classic in 2014 and had broken into the top 50 rankings.
"The neck is a sensitive thing. I felt I should now put my health before my career for a change. All these years I have not done that, taken painkillers and played. You need to respect your body and mind," Mehta told IANS in an interview on the sidelines of the Indian Oil Corporation Ltd (IOCL) XVI PSPB Inter Unit Billiards & Snooker tournament starting on Tuesday at the Bengal Rowing Club.
In 2018 Mehta had to take a break as his body stopped agreeing with him anymore. It was a time when Mehta felt that his career was finished.
But after almost a year and a half, Mehta clinched his first world title, winning the IBSF World Snooker Team event with Pankaj Advani in Mandalay.
"Luckily for me, things have turned around and taken a step forward. But I am still a long way from my peak. So to have won that tournament, while I am still finding my feet in the game, was a boost. I can now focus on my game and be more relaxed," said the Arjuna award winner.
Talking about his goals ahead, Mehta said he wants to be consistent and rub shoulders with top players in the world again in a bid to get back into the top 50 rankings.
"2019 was okay. World title was big but consistency was not there. I played well in 50 per cent of the tournaments. There were times when I really struggled," he said.
"I want to find that solid foundation and do it day in and day out. If I can do that in 2020, I think I can go back onto the Pro Tour and challenge again for the top 50 in the world which I had reached at my peak. I want to play against the best players in the world and challenge myself again."
Mehta also spoke on mental health being the most important aspect in a sportsman's life these days, saying he was not correct in ignoring it when his neck pain got worse but despite that, he continued playing.
Recently, Australian cricketer Glenn Maxwell had taken a break from the sport due to his own mental health with India skipper Virat Kohli also revealing he once needed to "get away from the game."
"Without mental health, you can't be a sportsperson. The whole point of being in sport and to achieve anything is to have clarity of mind. The emptiness in the mind only comes from good mental health. Otherwise, you're anxious and depressed," said Mehta who was playing in the UK and on the world tour when he was struck by his injury. He has now moved back to India to give more time to his personal life.
"Especially in today's day and age, you are bombarded with so much information. We can't stop our brain from functioning. We all need to step away from that, for our own sanity and as a sports person if you can't shut your mind off you don't have any chance of succeeding. Cases of depression and anxiety are at an all time high nowadays because of the world we live in," he added.
Mehta and Advani overcame a tough Thai team to emerge world champions in the IBSF World Snooker Team event in September ths year. This was Mehta's maiden team title.
On playing with Advani, he said: "I have been playing with him since I was 15-16 years old. Our friendship and rivalry goes back 20 years. It's always nice to play with somebody you can trust.
"The important part was getting selected in the top two, so that I could partner with him. We have always won something or the other as a team. The last time, the Asian team we finished runners up. But in the professional World Cup in 2015 we finished as bronze medallists. That was the greatest performance by an Indian team in the history of snooker. Some of my biggest victories have come against him."
The five-day meet here will see seven organisations take part including ONGC, BPCL, HPCL, MRPL, GAIL, OIL besides hosts IOCL. The tourney will consist of both team championship and individual events. Among the big names taking part in the meet are Advani, Sourav Kothari, Brijesh Damani and Laxman Singh Rawat.