Pankaj Advani can finally sleep in peace now. "I was nervous from the point I heard that my name was nominated for the Khel Ratna," said Advani from San Jose (near San Francisco) on Thursday.
He couldn't really believe that he was actually nominated for the country's top sporting award.
He's ecstatic and plans to take the entire Indian team that's participating at the World Team Snooker Championships in San Jose for dinner after their game on Thursday evening.
And wants to break the news to his mother in Bangalore. She's the first person he's planning to call.
Barely 21 and he's already a sporting icon of sorts, winning everything that's up for grabs in the world of snooker and billiards.
Yet he is not sure he'd win this. "As soon as I got the news of my nomination I felt good. It was a privilege to be nominated alongside the likes of Rahul Dravid (whose nomination didn't really happen as it was received after the deadline) and Mahesh Bhupathi.
I thought I had no chance in front of such sporting heroes, yet somewhere deep within, I felt I too had a chance," says the former IBSF World snooker champion.
The Khel Ratna, yet to be officially announced, will come just after he won the Arjuna Award a couple years ago but his feet are firmly rooted to the ground.
"It's perhaps perseverance and hard-work that's paid off," says a philosophical Pankaj. "The life of a sportsperson is not easy. There were times when nothing goes your way. You know you have the ability to do better; you know you are playing well, but somehow, these things are not reflected in your results. I went through such phases but somehow, I kept at it."
Pankaj says if it weren't for the billiards and snooker community, this wouldn't have been possible. "I think one has to realise that it's the game that makes a champion and it's the champion who keeps the game afloat. No one can survive in isolation. So I feel it's a great thing to have happened to the sport as a whole, especially one that's not as glamorous as cricket or tennis," says Pankaj, who started his career under the indomitable Arvind Savur. "He's been one who framed my career."
But right now he's focussing on the championships and wants to be here on the day of the Awards Ceremony on August 29. "I will reschedule my flight to be there on that day," he says.
Incidentally on a different note, it was also learnt that Irfan Pathan and Yuvraj Singh were among the recommendations but their names were vetoed.