DUBAI // Mohammed Shehab left for the Asian Snooker Championship confident of doing himself justice in Doha following preparations he described as "brilliant".
Shehab and Mohammed Al Joaker will represent the UAE in the continental championship, which pits Asia's top 52 snooker players including India's Aditya Mehta, the top seed, the reigning world amateur champion Hossein Vafaei of Iran, the 2009 world amateur champion Thepchaiya Un-nooh of Thailand and the two-time Asian champion Jin Long of China.
The Emirati duo have been preparing for the tournament alongside the well-known Irish coach PJ Nolan of the Champions 147 Academy for the past 10 days, and Shehab feels the training sessions with the former Ireland national coach have set them on the right course for the tournament ahead.
"It was brilliant this time," Shehab said about the preparations. "The coach PJ Nolan did a lot of work with me and Al Joaker. We benefitted a lot from the coach and we are feeling really good going into the tournament.
"I feel really good, especially after the coaching sessions, and now I am really looking forward to producing some good matches in Doha."
Nolan, however, will not be in Doha when Al Joaker opens his Group D campaign today against Fung Kwok Wai of Hong Kong.
Shehab, the tournament's eight seed, takes on Mohsen Aziz Bukshaisha, the Qatar No 1, in his opening match of Group H.
"Nolan has a very busy schedule and is booked till December," said Shehab, who described his opening match as potentially difficult. "Those first matches are always a bit slippery."
The UAE No 1 - a multiple Gulf, Arab and West Asian champion - is expected to top the group, which has been described as one of the easier ones in the tournament. Susantha Boteju of Sri Lanka, the Saudi Yousef Ibrahim, the Singaporean Ang Boon Chin and Lin Tang Ho Alan of Hong Kong are the other challengers in the group.
"People are saying the group is easy, but nothing is easy in snooker," Shehab said.
"It's best-of-seven matches and you cannot really afford to relax. So, while I am not going to put myself under any pressure, I am not going to take it easy."
Al Joaker, however, has found himself in a group which is considered as the toughest of the tournament.
He will have to battle against the fourth seed Mohammed Rais Senzahi of Afghanistan and seasoned campaigners Habib Subah of Bahrain, Fung Kwok Wai of Hong Kong, Lim Chun Kiat of Singapore and Ali Hussain Ali.
The top two from each group will qualify for the round of 16 and Shehab has backed his long-time friend to spring a few surprises at the tournament.
"Of course, compared to Al Joaker's group, mine is probably easier," Shehab said. "His group might be toughest in the competition. But what I have been seeing of Al Joaker, especially after the sessions with PJ Nolan, I am confident he can achieve something."
Al Joaker also sounded confident about his game and hopes not just to qualify for the second round, but go far in the tournament.
"We try to prepare as best as we can for every tournament, but this time I am feeling more confident about my game," Al Joaker said. "The first match will be really important because I feel whoever wins it will have a big advantage.
"So I will do my best and let's see what happens. A good result in snooker depends on so many things, but I will try my best to qualify for the second round and then go further in the tournament."
Shehab has similar ambitions, though he could face the top seed Mehta in the second or third round. The Abu Dhabi police officer believes this is the toughest field at the Asian Championship in eight years because of the presence of competitors like the Indian duo of Mehta and Pankaj Advani, who has won seven world titles in snooker and billiards.
The Iranian Vafaei defeated Shehab in the final of the West Asian Championship in Fujairah earlier this year and he has just added the Asian Junior Snooker Championship to his resume, winning the title in Goa, India, earlier this month.
"I am not worried about the knockout stages at the moment," Shehab said. "I don't want my focus to waver. But I am going there to win the tournament.
"I am not going there to have fun or just to qualify from my group. I expect myself to win the tournament, though this is probably the toughest Asian Championships in eight years.
"There is Thepchaiya [Un-nooh], who has played on the Main Tour. The Iranian [Hossein Vafaei] has just won two major titles.
"There are other good players from China and Thailand. So it's going to be a major battle over there. I feel quite confident, but you never know what will happen in the coming week. I hope I will do well."
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