x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Shehab touches patriotic pocket before world championship

Nothing perks up the cueist like the UAE flag and the anthem, the Emirati policeman tells Amith Passela.

Mohamed Shehab has had to balance work commitments and travel to Dubai for practice.
Mohamed Shehab has had to balance work commitments and travel to Dubai for practice.

Mohammed Shehab was barely able to reach the table when he first got hooked on snooker.

He played almost every day with his father, Colonel Mustafa Shehab, who had a snooker table installed in their home.

The early encouragement he got from his father proved the adage "practice makes perfect" and has led to Shehab, 36, dominating the UAE snooker scene for the past 15 years.

His father took part in local competitions and passed on his passion and knowledge of the game to Shehab.

"He was behind me all the time," Shehab said of his father, who also provided coaching for his son. "He gave me the start but I wasn't serious until I got in to high school.

That's the time I realised I had some talent and also understood how much my father had contributed to shape me up as a player."

Along with Mohamed Al Joaker, the UAE No 2, Shehab will be taking part in his seventh IBSF (International Billiards and Snooker Federation) World Championship in Sofia, Bulgaria, from tomorrow until December 2.

The tournament, also known as the World Amateur Snooker Championship, has acted as a springboard for several of the game's top players, including Jimmy White, Stephen Maguire and Ken Doherty.

"Like always, the objective is to keep the country's flag flying high and to go as far as possible in the championship," Shehab, a captain in the Abu Dhabi Police, said before flying out from the UAE on Wednesday.

"It has been a wonderful journey so far but I haven't reached this level without sacrifices. I put in around six to seven hours, five days a week, in training.

"At the same time I know I have some responsibility at my workplace. I try to try balance my training with the job.

"My employer has been kind enough to grant me permission to train whenever I prepared for a competition, either in the UAE or abroad."

Shehab's best finish in the tournament was reaching the semi-final in 2007 in Thailand. He went down to the Thai player Passakorn Suwannawat 8-5, who then lost in the final. Shehab reached the last eight in 2002, 2006, and 2008.

He was the runner up in the Asian Championship in 2006, the bronze medallist at the Doha Asian Games in the same year and the winner of the Asian Indoor Games in Macau in 2007.

He has been a member of the UAE's champion team in the GCC Championship for a remarkable 15 years from 1995 to 2011 and has won the team title in the Arab Championship five times.

The Emirati spent one year in England as a professional in 2007 but it did not work out because of a lack of interest from sponsors.

"It was a very good experience though," he said.

There is a cabinet full of trophies at home but Shehab hopes there are more to come.

"Winning is not only for me but to keep the country's flag flying high at every international competition," he said.

"There is no better feeling for me than hear the national anthem and watch the UAE flag hoisted at the victory ceremony. That's the time when you feel all the sacrifices being paid off."

Shehab and Al Joaker have been the country's top two for almost two decades, yet the hunger to remain at the summit of the game has not diminished for the Emiratis.

"We both enjoy being at the top and haven't stopped from continuing with the rigorous work that you need to go along to maintain or rather improve our own levels. It has been rewarding too," he said.

Shehab has been commuting between Abu Dhabi to Dubai daily for the past 10 days for the practice games with Al Joaker and David Roe, a former world No 13 who has been training the duo.

It is a journey he has made regularly for the past seven years, just to play practice matches with Al Joaker. "It is a pity me and Mohammed have to live in Abu Dhabi and Dubai," he said.

"This has been one of our main problems. We don't get to play more often and there is no one as good as him as practice partner. Travelling back and forth to Dubai has now become a routine for me, so there is no issue on that.

"Mohammed also doesn't do any less than me to keep himself consistently at the same high level."

The Emirati duo's preparations also included a local competition, the Arab Championship and an invitational tournament in Dubai, a programme fine-tuned over the past 10 days by Roe, now ranked 108.

"Roe is a longtime friend of ours," Shehab said. "He is not only a solid practice partner but has provided us guidelines and passed on all his experience."

Despite the experience of playing in the IBSF championship for six years, Shehab was forthright of his chances of going better than the last four spot he reached five years ago.

"I don't want to put so much pressure on myself to say that I want to win this championship, although that would be the objective of every player who comes for this competition," he said.

"Instead, my idea would be to try to win as many games as possible. If I can achieve a better result than my previous best, it would be a great achievement for the UAE. If not I have tried my best."

apassela@thenational.ae

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