Raj “The Hitman” Hundal is on the comeback trail and in the mood to win more major titles – starting with next week’s World Cup of Pool at York Hall.
The 2005 World Masters champ, who recently took time away from the sport after the birth of his first child, will link up with Amar Kang as India take on Holland in the first round on Wednesday night (23).
Hundal, 33, is confident of pulling off an upset against the third seeds and beating the best of the rest of world pool before getting back to singles action at October’s US Open.
The flamboyant potter from Hounslow has his love back for the game after 17 years on the circuit – and that spells trouble for Dutch duo Niels Feijen and Nick van den Berg, who Hundal has had some memorable run-ins with in the past.
“We’ve got a very tough game. Holland have lost in the last two finals and should have won both, but they choked. They’ve got some chokers those boys, I can tell you from experience.’ Hundal told Eastern Eye.
“I’ve choked their whole country out one-on-one, but this is a doubles event so the game is different.
“They are great players, I’m not knocking them. I give them full respect. They are like robots; they live in the pool hall.
“They’re at it non-stop but I don’t fear them. I’ve had them sitting in the chair hitting themselves. I’ve had them at breaking point. Their national coach hates me, I’ve ruined them in the past!”
Hundal, a former top three-ranked player and a winner in Cyprus and Sweden, is confident he and Kang can win their tie and give the Indian faithful something to cheer about in London’s Bethnal Green.
“You might see a bit of ring rust on me but I like the challenge. It’s going to be close but I like our chances. My partner’s been playing good, he’s been out in America touring the west coast. He’s won a tournament recently, he might be playing better than me.
“He’s certainly improved and is a lot more comfortable with the TV cameras, as before it was something new for him. The only teams to beat us have gone on to win the thing. And when we have lost, it’s only been 8-7.
“But they’re short games. It’s almost the equivalent of tennis players playing one set. Yeah, we’ll have some support. We’re in London so you might as well call it Little India.”
Hundal explained the reasons behind his shock decision to step away from the table last year – insisting the lure of winning trophies again, and not the cash, is his main motivation.
“I took time away because it’s hard living life out of a suitcase,” he said.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 17, I’m turning 34 next month and it’s getting a bit old, in and out of airports. It all sounds glamorous but you get bored real quick.
“I really enjoyed spending time at home with my little boy. There was a big part of me that never wanted to come back (to pool) but I started missing it.
“Then I got an invite to the World Cup of Pool, then there’s the US Open, so I thought it’s time to get back.
“It’s not about the prize money, I’m lucky I’m in a good (financial) position. I just want to see the look on my son’s face when I bring trophies home.”
Hundal though revealed getting back to his best after so long away wasn’t the best of experiences when he picked up a cue again to practise.
He said: “After nine months off, I forgot where my pool cue was in my house. I enjoyed not having to go to the pool hall, putting in hours of practice.
“I even got some hate mail. People saying: ‘I came to this tournament to see you and you wasn’t there’. I didn’t say I was coming!
“Then I saw a few clips and missed the feeling of hearing people clap for me. I’m not ready to hang the gloves up just yet.
“The first time I played, for 20 minutes I couldn’t pot a ball. I couldn’t see straight, all my lines were wrong, and I thought: ‘What the hell is going on here?’
“Then I sat down and almost coached myself back into it. Then I started making some nice shots, some power, finesse. After a couple of hours, I felt like no one in the world could beat me again. It was then I realised I was very lucky I had the natural ability to do that.
“Barry Hearn of Matchroom Sport rang me and said: ‘We want the Raj back’. So it’s the return of the Raj; that’s the hashtag. I’m 75 per cent sure I’m going to play the Japan Open in November too.
“I think I’m just going to play the majors now. Rankings don’t bother me anymore; you’re only as good as the last ball you hit.”
Hundal is also a man with no-nonsense views on pool and how it should be run. A friend of snooker legend Ronnie O’Sullivan, he gave a damning verdict on the future of cue sports.
“Ronnie is the only guy that gets people watching and attending snooker events. Take Ronnie out of snooker and it’s dead, and you can print that.” he blasted. “When he retires, it’s over. Snooker will move to China.
“Within five years of Ronnie retiring, guaranteed you’ll never hear about it over here again. Barry Hearn will probably sell it and make some money out of it. Pool’s a better sport but it needs to be promoted right.
“It has the same events, same prize money, same format. Nothing has changed. If you keep doing the same things, you’ll get the same results.
“Other than Hearn, I wouldn’t say we have another promoter. All the rest are all clowns, and you can print that too!”
He concluded: “The game is up for grabs and we have the formula to do that. We’ve got an IPL-style format of pool that will work. It should be doing better, it’s definitely a sleeping giant.”