Raj Hundal Prepared and Hungry

Raj Hundal

With the 2009 PartyPoker.net World Pool Masters a little more than three weeks away, former Champion Raj Hundal insists he is hungry for more success. Hundal, 27, enjoyed the finest moment of his career to date in 2005 when he recovered from a 6-0 and 7-1 deficit against Rodney Morris in the final to lift the Masters trophy. He has not been in the event though for the last two seasons and Hundal is desperate to win the prestigious invitational tournament again.

 "In my mind, I'm going there to win this title," said Hundal, who is in intensive training for the competition which takes place from 8-10 May at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas. "It would show I'm back and prove that the first victory I hadn't just got lucky. "But you make your own luck when you play this game and if you watch back the videos from 2005 you will see I outplayed my opponents. "I beat Thomas Engert, the defending champion, and against Rodney I was 6-0 and 7-1 down so you can't get lucky to win from there - I played lights out pool.

 "It was a great feeling. I remember being behind in a few matches and I was seen as the underdog but I proved to the pool world that I can beat anyone at any time. "I think I'm always a threat and now I'm playing well, am confident and definitely improved as a player from 2005. I'm a lot more dangerous and much sharper. "It would mean a lot to me to win for the second time, it would be like when Muhammad Ali beat Joe Frazier the second time! "I play Darren Appleton, a good friend, first but I've got a strong head-to-head record against him and I don't think he has ever beaten me so I fancy this."

 Hundal made the semi-finals of the 2006 World Pool Masters but, due to the surging strength of other British players, could not find a place in the 2007 or 2008 events. But Hundal, who now represents India due to his parents' heritage, is back among the 16 who will be vying for the $20,000 top prize at the Riviera. However, he admits he was unhappy at not being selected for the invitation-only single-elimination tournament in the last two years and feels he has a point to prove. "I've played in the Masters twice and won it and then finished third so I've not had a bad performance but it shows how tough the competition is," said Hundal. "It did hurt but there's a lot of politics in pool and it's a great honour to play in an event like the Masters. "I feel like I haven't eaten for a long while and I feel more hungry than ever.

 "Now that I represent India instead of the UK there is a lot more responsibility on my shoulders and I want to get the Indian youth involved in pool; to do that they need me to be a champion. "India has never had a world-class player to represent them before but I've been going around the world and beating the best in the world. There is no top player that hasn't been beaten by me. "But we (Indian players) are not seen as a soft draw and the game is growing. I work with a PR group and they are pushing me out there and I've done radio interviews and an interview with the biggest newspaper there.

 "In the UK pool is not deemed to be a big sport but in Asia it's huge. When you go to Asia you're lucky to find a table free to play on." If Hundal triumphs against Appleton on Saturday, May 9 he will then play either five-time Masters Champion Ralf Souquet or Russian teenager Ruslan Chinakhov for a place in the semi-finals. However, Hundal is relieved the man he beat in the final is not around to gain revenge. "My main rival would have been Rodney Morris, but he's not in the competition," added Hundal. "I beat him, he beats me and it's always back and forwards. But (defending champion) Alex Pagulayan is another great player, while Mika is always a strong rival.

"But I don't fear any of them and they can all get beaten by me."