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Merchant in awe of Chinese system

Busan: Four days into the Asian Games, India’s gold count is static at one. The proud owners of that precious metal, snooker duo Yasin Merchant and Rafat Habib, are still hot property and are quite enjoying their unique status.

“There’s a lot of medal expectation from snooker and billiards even though there’s not much support for cue sport in India… Let’s hope our performance helps it gain better recognition,” said Merchant, in between posing for a television channel at the lovely lawns in front of the Athletes’ Village.

As articulate a sportsperson as you would ever wish to come across, the Mumbai-based Merchant is in awe of the Chinese system. “It’s incredible the way they have come up in recent years. At the Bangkok Games, they did participate but were losing most matches. In four years they have improved beyond recognition,” Merchant quipped.

The Indians lost to China in the pre-quarter finals of the team event Wednesday. “If we could have won that match, we had a very good chance of going all the way to the final,” said Merchant.

He did well to get the better of Junhui Ding, the boy-wonder of the snooker world, but both Pankaj Advani and Manan Chandra lost.

“This boy is an amazing talent. His concentration and dedication have to be seen to be believed. I haven’t seen a 15-year-old like him,” gushed Merchant.

The defeat to Merchant was Ding’s first after three title triumphs. He emerged best in the Asian under-21 meet in Calcutta, the world U-21 championship in Latvia and the senior Asian championship recently.

Merchant has a third event left, snooker singles, by virtue of being the India No. 1. “I again play a Chinese in the first round, their second-ranked man… It’s a tough draw but I can win if I take my chances,” Merchant remarked.

India have high hopes from billiards as well, which get underway Sunday. “We have some brilliant players like Geet Sethi… two gold medals we can expect,” Merchant signed off.

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