It has been a busy time on the table and I'm excited about the rest of the season.
I got a call out of the blue on a Tuesday night in January, giving me the chance to play in the Championship League the next day. I wasn't expecting it but Neil Robertson pulled out at short notice so I jumped at the chance. And I took advantage by winning my group, and then getting to the semi-finals of the winners' group. I finished top of the group and played really well, but then ended up losing to Stuart Bingham in the semis. I really felt that I could win it, but I just didn't take enough of my chances against Stuart.
I ended up winning nearly £14,000 which was a huge bonus considering I had never played in the event before. My biggest pay-cheque for a single event before was only £12,000. It's a tournament I had been to quite a few times over the years to watch the likes of Judd Trump and Neil, so to play in it was fantastic. It was really good match practice which helps me for the rest of the season.
After the final group it was straight up to Barnsley for the China Open and Indian Open qualifiers. I didn't play great but I beat Igor Figueiredo 4-0 to qualify for India and John Astley 5-0 to make it to China. In both matches I won a key first frame. The opening frame is so important when you are playing someone ranked below you, because if you win it you feel you can push on and dominate. You always have to respect your opponent, but at the moment I am in the mood where I want to bury players.
Look at the likes of Trump, Robertson and O'Sullivan - when they win tournaments they tend to breeze through the first few matches. They consistently demolish opponents, and it takes nothing out of them. Neil said to me years ago that to win a tournament you have to win those matches easily and be in and out of the arena quickly, so you can save your energy for the harder matches later on.
Earlier this month we went to Berlin for the German Masters. It was the first time I had been to the Tempodrom and it is a brilliant venue. The conditions were magnificent. Bingham beat me again - 5-3 - in one of the best matches I've played this season. I had a century, an 80 and a 70, and Stuart also had a few big breaks. It was a bit of a shock to lose because I always believe that if I play well I'll beat anyone. It doesn't happen often that you play that well and lose. I couldn't speak for about an hour afterwards, I was devastated. I had felt I could go on a run so I was gutted that my time there was cut short. It would have been nice to see a bit of Berlin but instead I flew straight back to the UK and got back on the practice table, because I'm really devoting myself to it this season. I want to be as good as I can at snooker - there will be plenty of time later in my life to see different places.
Then last week it was the Welsh Open in Cardiff. I played Ian Burns in the first round, who I rate as a tough opponent. I won 4-1 and pretty much stuffed him. The first frame was very long, and after that I decided I wasn't going to play at his pace and keep it tight, I wanted to get the balls open and take my chances. Then I played Xiao Guodong who is 19th in the world and I absolutely buried him 4-1. I'm just in a confident mood which is really nice because a year ago I didn't even want to play snooker. In the third round I played Ali Carter and came from 3-1 down to 3-3, but then he played a good decider and beat me 4-3. I was disappointed but at the moment it feels like only the top 16 players are beating me.
At the start of this season my only goal was to make ten centuries. Stephen Hendry had given me a few things to work on to improve my break-building so I just wanted to work hard on that and see if it would make a difference. I'm already on 20 tons now and there are still six or seven tournaments to go so it's obviously working.
This weekend it's Poland for the Gdynia Open, then next week it's Blackpool for the Shoot-Out, where I've got Judd in the first round which will be fun. The tournaments come thick and fast for the next few weeks, which is a great thing for snooker. I'm looking forward to going to India for the first time although there have been some issues for players getting visas so I hope that gets resolved.
One of my goals at the moment is to get into the top 32 in time for the World Championship qualifiers because it would mean I couldn't meet another top 32 player in the final round - if I get that far. I'm pretty close to getting into that bracket at the moment so I have to just keep winning matches. If I get there it will show a lot of progression because I started the season 58th. But my main focus is just on my next match, and so far this year I've been pretty good at just concentrating on one event at a time and moving in the right direction.
All the best until next time!
I've had some good results over the past few weeks which has given me a lot of confidence looking ahead to the second half of the season.
At the UK Championship in York I played Hammad Miah in the first round, I won 6-0 and I was happy with the way I played. Then I faced Xiao Guodong which was a massive match for me, in fact I'd say it was one of the biggest matches I've ever played. It was worth £6,000 and he is someone I'm looking to overtake in the rankings so I need to show that I can beat players like that. Also, Ali Carter was the seeded player in that section, so after he went out I felt that if I could beat Xiao I'd have a good chance to go further. I played well, especially towards the end, taking the last two frames to win 6-4.
In the third round I was up against Rory McLeod, who I had played a few times before without beating him. I knew what to expect and that I would have to be patient. Rory gets stick for being slow, although I don't actually think he is that slow. Rod Lawler has a longer average shot time, but plays an attacking game. Rory is a more of percentage player, so when he misses, the balls tend to go safe and the frames can go scrappy. Before the interval, I made a century and three breaks over 50, but the score was 2-2 because I'd lost two frames on the black. I won a massive black-ball frame at 3-3 and ended up winning 6-4. It was just a huge relief to get over the line, especially as that set up a clash with Ronnie O'Sullivan.
I was so excited about taking on the Rocket, especially as I was in form and I genuinely thought that I could win. I had a few chances early on, but I missed them, and after that every pot got more difficult. Before I knew it I was 3-0 down, and from that point I didn't think I could win a frame, and I lost 6-0. He made a 147 in the last frame which I was delighted about because it took the focus away from how bad I had been! I couldn't believe how loud it was when he got towards the end, I've never experienced an atmosphere like that. It was a privileged to be sitting so close to witness Ronnie doing what he does best. I noticed that he took a few deep breaths before he cleared the last few balls, which is a way of dealing with the pressure, and that's something I'll learn from.
It wasn't a tough pill to swallow. I haven't had many big matches on BBC - my last one was against Mark Selby at the World Championship last year, which was similar as I lost the first five frames. I was just disappointed and annoyed that I didn't settle down early against Ronnie and show what I can do. Mark Williams tweeted that I was like a 'rabbit in the headlights' and he's entitled to his view because he has won the biggest titles. I didn't beat myself up about losing. It's often the close matches - where you lose 5-4 or 6-5 - that leave you sick, rather than ones where you get drubbed.
After that I was ill for a few days and almost had to pull out of the Lisbon Open, but luckily I recovered in time to go to Portugal. My form was still there and I beat Cao Xin Long, Graeme Dott and Ryan Day to get through to the final day. A couple of people said to me that I had bounced back well after losing 6-0 to Ronnie, which was nice to hear. Then I went on to beat Dominic Dale, Judd Trump and Barry Hawkins, all of whom are proven tournament winners. That put me into my first ever pro final, though I lost 4-2 to Stephen Maguire. I was gutted to lose, especially as I felt that if I had played the same as I had in the previous three matches, I would have won. My next goal is to go one better and win a tournament.
I couldn't believe how big the crowds were in Portugal. When I first heard it was in Lisbon, I imagined people walking past the venue wondering what snooker is. But they knew about it and they loved it. When I played Trump there was a huge crowd and it was so loud. I potted a long yellow at a key moment in the match and the crowd went mad - it sent a shiver down my spine. I really enjoy that kind of atmosphere and I want to experience it more.
In Portugal we trialled using polish on the balls for the first time to try to reduce kicks and bad bounces. I thought it worked well. The first kick I got was in the final. I hope we'll continue using it.
Then it was on to the German Masters qualifiers in Wigan and I had a couple of really good 5-4 wins to qualify for the Tempodrom in Berlin for the first time, which is something to look forward to in February. I was 3-0 down to Lyu Chenwei but managed to come back to beat him, then I had a great battle with Alan McManus which I won on the final pink.
Over Christmas it has been nice just to spend a bit of time with my family, especially having won about £30,000 over the last few weeks! I have always been lucky enough to have the backing of my family financially, so I'm pleased now to have some money in the bank and be able to look after myself.
I'd like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year and all the best for 2015…hopefully a great year for me!
Last month at the Haining Open Asian Tour event in China I had a good run to the semi-finals.
Neil Robertson told me that one of the keys to going a long way in tournaments is to win your early matches easily and quickly so they don't take much out of you. That's especially true when you have to play more than one match in a day. I won my first four matches 4-0, so I had plenty of time to rest in between. I beat Ian Burns, who had been one of my bogeymen as I'd never beaten him before, as well as Jimmy White and two Chinese players. In the quarter-finals I beat Peter Ebdon 4-3 in one of the highest quality matches I've been involved in. I had five breaks over 50 in the first six frames and it was 3-3! The decider was a bit scrappy but I made a nice 46 to win it.
I was gutted to lose 4-1 to Stuart Bingham in the semis. In the first frame I potted the pink and went into the pack, but a red dropped in. Stuart cleared to go 1-0 up, otherwise it could have been a different story. I was flying at the time and I felt I could win the tournament. All credit to Stuart because he beat me and went on to win it.
It was great to see Oliver Lines reach the final, even though he lost to Stuart. His dad Peter is one of my best friends on the tour. Oliver has got great fundamentals, a great background, he's got the technique and the work ethic and a lot of potential. The ranking system is tough now because he's got to get into the top 64 by the end of next season otherwise he goes back to zero. But there's no doubt he's good enough to go a long way. He's a really nice kid as well and his dad - who lives and breathes snooker - will give him the right advice. The only thing that might stop Oliver might be the attention from females, he's already very popular in China!
From Haining it was on to the International Championship in Chengdu. I played Neil Robertson in the first round and made six breaks over 50 but lost 6-3. He nicked up a couple of frames on the black, and in another I made 70 but he came back to win in. Overall I felt as if I was the better player, but the result says I wasn't.
Last week at the Ruhr Open European Tour event in Germany I played well in my first two matches, beating Alex Borg 4-2 and Kyren Wilson 4-0, but then lost 4-2 to Judd Trump. I didn't make many mistakes, and only missed one ball - a red to the middle in the last frame. I felt physically sick afterwards because I really felt it was one I could have won, against an in-form Judd.
Overall I'm feeling a lot better about my game than I was a year ago, and I'm going into every tournament knowing I have a chance to go deep. I suppose it's a good sign that I'm disappointed not to beat players like Judd, Neil and Stuart - and that I feel comfortable playing them on TV tables. I'm not worried about competing against them - I've beaten Judd before as well as the likes of John Higgins and Stephen Hendry. The reason I'm down at 40th in the world is because I messed around too much last year and it's only been this year that I've worked hard and prepared properly for tournaments. I'm ready to kick on and do some damage.
One of my goals now is to get into the top 32, because that makes a massive difference. In the flat draws in ranking events, top 32 players don't meet each other until the third round. There's no two ways about it, the draws are easier once you get into the top 32. I feel I can achieve that this season, and then it's good times ahead. My other targets at the moment are to qualify for the Players Championship Grand Finals and the World Grand Prix. I'm in a decent position to qualify for both but I need to keep winning matches to make sure.
I'm heading up to York now for the UK Championship and really looking forward to it as it's one of the Triple Crown events. I've got Hammad Miah in the first round on Wednesday. Hammad should have beaten Mark Allen in the first TV match in Germany last week, he lost 4-3 but had a phenomenal chance in the last frame. Hopefully I can beat him and get another run going.
All the best until next time,
Ni Hao everyone.
Last month I went to the Shanghai Masters and I lost 5-3 to Zhao Xintong in the wild card round. Zhao and Yan Bingtao are head and shoulders above all the other wild cards so it was a tough draw to have to play him. My attitude wasn't the best and I made it too easy for him. He's a quality player though and he is going to go a long way in this game. I struggled with the conditions - the way the ball reacts in that level of humidity is different to what we're used to and it's very hard to adjust to. I guess it just takes a long time to get used to the conditions out there.
If I qualify in future I think I'm going to change my game slightly, tighten up a bit and not go for certain shots that I would usually fancy. Those conditions suit a certain type of player, with a short, punchy action. Every time I've played there I've lost so next time I'll try something different.
One of the highlights of a trip to China is always going to the local markets. I buy so much stuff and it's highly amusing bartering with the locals. Everybody ends up haggling over 50p, but it's about trying to batter them down as far as you can and not letting them mug you off. The K-Dog (Mark King) is probably the best at it. He takes no nonsense. Chris Melling is new on the scene and he thinks he knows what he's doing, but in reality he hasn't got a clue. The worst has to be Chris Wakelin purely for the fact that last time we went (his debut at the markets) he bought a watch for £125 and he was smiling and chirping about what a great deal he'd got, then 30 seconds later he found out it was only worth £60.
Barnsley was next on the calendar for the International Championship qualifiers. I drew Alex Pagulayan and, without any disrespect, I never felt it was a match that I was going to lose. He is a phenomenal nine-ball pool player and if we played pool he'd batter me every time, but he must find the challenge of snooker very hard. At 3-0 up I thought it was going to be a really quick match but then Alex made a century and got back into the game at 3-2. I managed to take the next three frames to win 6-2. Alex has a lot of flair and it's great to see him giving snooker a go to see what he can do. He used two or three different cues and played a couple of shots behind his back. Then when he won a frame, I went out of the arena but the guy who owns the Atack snooker club where I play, Big Ian White, said Alex did a little dance by the table. He's a very amusing guy with a lot of character. He did play slowly but that was because he doesn't know a lot of the shots an orthodox snooker player would know, so he has to work them out.
In Chengdu I'll be playing Neil Robertson. We've been friends for years but never met in a tournament before. I wouldn't say I dream about matches like that - beating Ronnie O'Sullivan in the World final is what most people dream of - but it's fantastic to have the chance to test myself against one of the world's best, live on TV. I hope Neil plays as well as he can and I can rise to the challenge.
Last week we were in Sofia for the Bulgarian Open. I flew on the Thursday night and landed at 2am so didn't get to bed until 3.30am and only had four hours sleep as I was playing at 9.30am on the Friday. The players try to book flights as early as possible, often before the draw comes out, to keep costs down, so it's just unfortunate when it works out like that. If I'd been playing at any time other than 9.30am I would have been fine. I thought about changing my flight and getting one on the Thursday morning, but it would have cost £300 so I decided against it. If it happens again, I probably will switch flights because only having a few hours in bed is very poor preparation. Earlier this season, Andrew Higginson got stuck in horrendous traffic on the way from Widnes to Gloucester for the Wuxi qualifiers, turned up late for his match, got docked the first three frames and lost 5-0. He was just very unlucky and a few players do drive to qualifying venues on the day of the match, especially if they're playing in the evening. If I'm playing in Barnsley at 7.30pm then I'll leave Nuneaton at 2.15pm which gives two or three hours leeway. If I did get stuck in traffic I'd jump out, cross to the other side and call a taxi.
Anyway, in Sofia I played Sam Harvey and I was lucky to win 4-2 because he had a very good chance to go 3-2 up. He missed the green and that made a huge difference to the outcome of the match and I was fortunate to get through. I went back to the hotel and slept for another couple of hours, then played much better in my second match and beat Mitchell Mann 4-0, finishing with a break of 123.
Then I played Robbie Williams and I lost 4-2 but it was a game that I felt I played pretty well in and was gutted to lose. Robbie played well though so all credit to him. That leaves me just inside the top 24 for the Players Championship Grand Finals and the top 32 for the World Grand Prix. I'd love to stay inside the cut mark and play in both events as they have now become major tournaments on the snooker calendar.
I watched the Ryder Cup golf on TV the other week and I found it disappointing. The course was too easy and Europe won very comfortably. Ian Poulter was dreadful but they could have had Xintong and Bingtao as their wild cards and they would still have won. Rory McIlroy was phenomenal, I just love watching him. He takes opponents apart by pumping it at least 20 yards past everyone and then going flag hunting on every hole. That's what sport is all about for me, watching the very best play their best. I think far too much significance is attached to what the captains do. Paul McGinley was getting a lot of praise when it's the players who actually won it.
Anyway, until next time, keep it real.
I've been working really hard on the practice table for the past couple of months and it is starting to show in my results.
I had a decent run to the last 16 of the Riga Open in Latvia. It was our first time in Riga - it's a beautiful city and the venue was brilliant. I beat Zak Surety 4-0 then Shaun Murphy 4-3. To beat Shaun was a big scalp. To be honest we both struggled with the table, though I did make a good break of 62 in the last frame to win it. Then I beat Paul Davison 4-2 to qualify for the final day. I then had the whole Saturday off which interrupted my momentum. There was a local snooker club and I should have gone there for a practice, but I didn't. I was annoyed with myself because it was a chance to go a long way in the tournament but I didn't take it. On the Sunday morning I lost 4-2 to Anthony McGill and played poorly.
But I felt I had some momentum going into the Shanghai Masters qualifiers in Barnsley. I played Vinnie Calabrese first who is a dangerous player so I knew I had to score well and keep him away from the table. In the first three frames I went 70, 107, 105 and ended up winning 5-1. Then I played Chris Wakelin who plays at the same club as me in Nuneaton and we shared a lift to Barnsley. He beat Ricky Walden in Riga and he's been tipped as one to watch by a few players. I nicked the first frame on the pink and then dominated the rest of the match. I didn't score as heavily as I did against Vinnie but I barely made a mistake and I'd rate it as probably the best performance of my career. Then in the last round I played Mark Davis and again I made very few mistakes. I had a 140 and an 85 in going 4-1 ahead. Then I got a bit nervous and missed two blues to the green pocket which could have won me the match. He won that frame but I won the seventh comfortably to qualify for Shanghai. Overall, of the 15 frames I won in Barnsley, I won nine of them in my first scoring visit. I haven't played that well for years.
It's no co-incidence that the results have started coming since Stephen Hendry has guided me in the right direction in terms of my practice regime. My whole game is stronger and my concentration levels are phenomenal. Since I got my Star table put into the club, I have been living on it. Stephen has given me some routines to work on which have made a big difference. You get out of this game what you put in…I suppose I have always known that, but when the most successful player of all time tells you, it really hits home. Stephen has taken the time to help me and I want to put the work in to get the benefits. It's still early days but I'm on the right track. Every time I open my cue case now I'm looking forward to getting to the table and hitting the ball in the way I want to.
This week it's Germany for the Paul Hunter Classic, I'm playing Alfie Burden in my first match on Friday. Then I've got Shanghai to look forward to next month. I've been drawn against a wild card - Zhou Xintong - so it's a chance to take on the best Chinese amateur player.
Looking back on Barnsley, I really liked the new partitions between tables. They allow fans to watch several matches at once, but they are high enough to stop us being able to see the other tables when we're sitting in our seats. When you can see other tables you end up watching them which can be very distracting from your match. If we have the same at every qualifying event, the players can't complain. I should also mention that the tables were immaculate and I didn't have a single bad bounce. During the event I stayed in Sheffield and spent a fair bit of time with Ken Doherty and his friend Mick. We had a few meals together and I really enjoyed their company. Ken was one of my idols when I started watching snooker and he has become a good friend.
As I've been working so hard on my game I haven't done much away from snooker. When I was ranked 37th in the world I started playing golf - I got pretty good at it but my snooker form plummeted. So I've more or less quit golf, though I am looking forward to the World Snooker golf day at The Oxfordshire next week.
I did watch a bit of Rory McIlroy winning both the Open and the USPGA. What a force he is now - he's getting close to the way Tiger Woods played in his prime. I used to see him as a player who was liable to blow up when in contention, but before the USPGA I felt that no one could beat him. He's driving it 30 yards past his opponents and hitting two clubs less into the green. It's great to see a country as small as Northern Ireland produce Rory as well as other major winners Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke.
Finally I just want to mention Ali Carter as he tweeted this morning that he has finished his chemotherapy and is feeling a lot better. He texted me last week after I won my first match in Shanghai which was a nice thing to do. I'm sure he will be eager to get back to playing in tournaments. Everyone is supporting him and hoping he makes a full recovery. He is a class act and it will be great for the sport to see him back playing.
All the best until next time.
I won my first match of the season in the Wuxi Classic qualifiers, beating Sydney Wilson 5-4. I was in control at 3-0 up, then he came back to 4-4 and I was under pressure. But I played a good safety in the decider, got a chance and made a break of 111. It was nice to make a century and get off to a winning start. I've entered the Asian Tour event in Yixing as well so I'll have two tournaments out in China. I'll be playing the Asian Tour events whenever I qualify for the ranking events in China this season, and if I get off to a good start and I'm in contention for the top eight on the Asian Tour list to get into the Players Championship then I'll probably play in them even if I'm not in the ranking events.
In the Australian Goldfields Open qualifiers I lost 5-3 to Allan Taylor. I'm gutted not to be going to Bendigo having got to the quarter-finals there twice before. A few things went against me in the match and Allan had a few bits of luck, but that's snooker and overall I was pretty pathetic.
Personally I don't agree with the idea of the Q School amateurs playing in professional tournaments. In my view, if there are not enough entries into tournaments then there should be walkovers, or we should just open the sport up for anyone to turn pro, as we did in the early 1990s.
Each season my target is to do better than I did the previous season. A couple of years ago I got to my first quarter-final, then last season I got to the semi-finals of the European Tour event in Poland. So my main goal this time is to get to a final. The likes of Aditya Mehta and Gerard Greene played in finals last season and there's no reason why I can't do the same. I don't have a target in terms of my world ranking because unless you are around the top 16, it doesn't make much difference. I just want to win matches and build momentum.
I have a proper practice base now in Nuneaton at the Atack Snooker Club and I have bought a Star table from the guys at World Snooker Services who are going to fit it for me as soon as I get back from Wuxi. That means I'll be able to practise hard on my own, plus the likes of Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy will come for a game which is great as I've not had a set-up like that for a couple of years now.
I'm flying to China on the 15th with Emirates. I asked Stephen Hendry if I could have some of his millions of air miles, but he said NO! So I guess that's the end of our friendship...haha. When I get back from the Far East I'll probably go away for a week with my girlfriend Kylie as I've not been on holiday since 2008 and I'm certainly overdue.
The other day I played golf at Formby in Merseyside, which is a fantastic course. It was Hendry and I against John Parrott and Shaun Murphy, and we got destroyed. I was also having a singles match with Shaun to determine who is the best. I was three down after 13 then I hit my drive out of bounds on the 14th so I thought it was all over. But I hit three off the tee then hit my hybrid from 208 yards to three feet. I won that hole and the next three as well to go one up after 17. But Shaun won the last hole with a par so we finished all square. It was a great match, but I'm sure the rematch will be even better. And if I win, Murphy will never hear the end of it!
I've also started spending a bit of time back in the gym again as my physique is horrendous. I have let the diet slip over the last few months, lost a lot of muscle and put on fat, and that's not the look I'm after.
I was devastated - as I'm sure everyone was - when I heard that Ali Carter has got lung cancer. He has been so unlucky with illness - firstly with Crohn's disease which my sister has so I know how bad it is, then with testicular cancer, and now this. It must be world-shattering for him.
I knew Ali when we were younger because we're both from Essex, and I practised with him a few times. I've never been that close to him, but after he beat me in the China Open last season, we had dinner together and he gave me some advice about my game. Then I won my first two matches in the world qualifiers and he texted me to say he was glad I had taken his advice. He went out of his way to help me and I won't forget that.
There has been a lot of talk about whether his ranking position should be frozen while he's away from the tour, and I believe it absolutely should be. Some players might question where you should draw the line in terms of illness and injury, for example if a player breaks an arm or leg, should the same apply? My view is that each case needs to be treated individually on its merits, but for something life-threatening like cancer, the player should have the chance to come back from illness without having dropped down the rankings - 100 per cent.
But the most important thing now is Ali's health and I just hope he knows that every snooker player is behind him, we're all talking about him and keeping everything crossed. Hopefully he'll be back on the circuit soon and getting back to where he belongs in the winner's circle.
All the best
I am in Sheffield at the moment and it is hurting to be here and not to have qualified to play at the Crucible.
Last month I went to Haikou for the World Open and lost to Barry Hawkins 5-4 on the black, having come from 4-0 down to 4-4. I have been working hard and felt my game was in good shape, so going over there I thought playing Barry would be a good test. I was absolutely heartbroken to lose on the last black. I missed the green to win and the journey home was probably the worst I have ever had. It was pretty painful to be honest.
After that I went to Beijing for the China Open, and beat Ryan Day in the first round. I lost 5-2 to Ali Carter in the second round but felt that I played quite well, I just didn't take my chances. He said pretty much the same after the match and he gave me a helpful bit of advice, told me I have a good game but I am looking for things to go wrong rather than right.
I took Ali's advice on board and when I got back I played in the World qualifiers. I got through the first two rounds of qualifying, beating Rhys Clark and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh. I felt my game was in good shape, so I was absolutely devastated to lose to Michael White. I was 6-3 up and in control, but didn't take some of my chances. That pretty much sums up the last six weeks; not taking the chances I have created.
I went back to Sheffield for the main event. It is disappointing not to be involved but I have come up to watch the snooker and also play a bit of golf. Every year myself Dennis Taylor, Stephen Hendry, Willie Thorne, Ken Doherty, John Virgo and John Parrott all go out and play a bit. Parrott is the best of the lot, he has a sub-two handicap. I would say I am probably second best but it is always very competitive and good fun.
I think there is one man to beat at the Crucible, and that is Ronnie O'Sullivan. Everybody who is already out of the tournament would say the only way Ronnie won't win it is if he breaks his leg. I think the most likely time to have seen him knocked out would have been the first round, first to ten. He got a tough draw against Robin Hull, who was a great player ten years ago and would definitely have been in the top 16 if he hadn't had his illness.
I was really impressed by Michael Wasley's win over Ding Junhui. Michael settled early and that is crucial; I didn't settle early last year and paid the price. Even at 6-3 down he seemed like he was enjoying it. I saw the second session of the match and Michael looked the better player. I thought he held himself together tremendously and I would say that was the biggest shock I have ever seen, and it was thoroughly deserved. He went out and beat the player of the season from 6-3 down.
The new invitations Barry Hearn announced has caused some debate. Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry should have an invite, of course they could. We were told at the start of the season that there would be no wildcards, so to say that and then introduce them at the end of the year is a bit of a liberty. But for me, any World Champion should be able to play when they want. Other people say the invitations should be for ambassadors for the game, but how do you draw a line on that?
Looking back on the season, I have played badly and it is hard to pick a highlight. Even though I lost in the world qualifiers, it was nice to finish on a bit of a roll. The season starts again at the end of May, and that is much better than having three months off.
For me, Ding has been the player of the year. He has done something nobody has done for 23 years - winning five ranking titles in a season. If Ronnie wins the World it will be three years running, a fantastic achievement, but Ding has done something no other player has done apart from Hendry. If Neil Robertson was to make 100 centuries he would be a candidate too. But Ding winning five ranking events is a great achievement.
All the best
Last month I got to the semi-finals of the Gdynia Open in Poland. This was the first time I had got that far in a World Snooker Tour event, and it felt good to back making some progress. As I described here last month, I had been messing about for too long and turning up at tournaments just hoping something would go right. In recent months I have got my head down and started to practise properly.
In the first round in Gdynia I played Ahmed Saif and I'm sure everyone expected me to win 4-0 as he hasn't won a match yet this season. But I struggled and the match was in the balance at 2-2. I was sitting in my chair thinking about where my career was going. To be honest I was devastated about the way I was playing and couldn't wait for the game to finish, I didn't even care if I won or lost, I just wanted to get out of there. There was a bit of needle because I asked Ahmed to sit down while I was playing a shot. He felt that I should ask the referee to tell him to sit down, but after standing up for ten shots in a row it was starting to get on my nerves! It fired me up a bit and I played well in the last two frames to win 4-2.
Then I played Allan Taylor and luckily for me he wasn't at his best and let me off the hook. I won 4-0 but I played so badly I felt like crying. I felt like I wanted to put my cue away and never get it back out of its case. I called Peter Lines, one of my best mates on the tour and someone who has helped me a lot and always been brutally honest with me. I told him how I felt and he said he was glad I had admitted to myself that I had been neglecting the game for too long. He said now I'd realised how bad I'd become, I could get back to working hard and sorting my game out. I felt a lot better after that, it was as if a huge weight had lifted, and I started to play a lot better. I beat Anthony Hamilton and Rob Milkins 4-0 and Judd Trump 4-1, winning 16 frames in a row at one point.
I played Shaun Murphy in the semis, he was at the top of his game and punished me for every small mistake I made, and bashed me 4-1. I was disappointed because I felt as if I could have won the tournament if I had got to the final. But it felt good winning those matches and getting that far into a tournament, which I hadn't done before. Sport and life often turn on small moments. If I'd lost to Saif I might have considered a life and career change. But something clicked mentally and now I feel I'm on the right track.
At the Welsh Open I won 4-1 against Khaled Abumdas from Libya, who is one of the nicest people I've ever met. I think he might struggle this year but it's all a learning curve for him. Then I played Ricky Walden who I have a good record against as I'd only lost to him once before. That record got slightly worse as he beat me 4-2.
This Friday I am flying to China for the Haikou World Open. The players all fly to Beijing then we get a connection flight to Haikou. It's my 29th birthday on the day so I might have a French Martini or two on the plane to celebrate my last year of not being 30! I'm playing Barry Hawkins on Monday, which will be a tough game but I'm looking forward to it. It's another tough draw but you get chances against everyone, if you don't take them you don't win, it's simple. The only thing I worry about is how my own game is. It would be nice to get a run going out there.
I watched the Rocket win the Welsh Open last Sunday. He is a freak - an absolute animal. Not only is he comfortably the best player on the planet, but everyone seems to freeze against him. It's similar to what used to happen when Tiger Woods was going into the back nine on a Sunday, no one could stand up and compete with him. At the moment I think Ronnie could give anyone on the tour 14 or 21 points a frame start, and I think he will win the World Championship for a third year in a row with ease. The only round where he might be vulnerable at the Crucible is the first round where it's best of 19 frames. But once he gets going he'll be hard to stop. He can't meet the likes of Ding Junhui, Neil Robertson and Mark Selby until the semi-finals, and I cannot see anyone beating him over 33 or 35 frames.
This week I had a great game of golf at The Mere in Cheshire. It was Stephen Hendry and I against Dennis Taylor and the former footballer Mike England. I hadn't played much in the last few months - due to the busy snooker schedule and the bad weather - but I played really well. The one thing you don't lose is class and flair, and I've got both in abundance on the golf course! I missed a five-foot putt for birdie on the 17th and a 12-footer for eagle on the 18th, and still shot three under on the back nine. Overall I was one under, which is the first time I've ever shot under par. Needless to say Stephen and I bashed the other two up and took the money. If Dennis is reading this: Stephen and I would just like to say thank you very much for the donation.
There have been a few rumours about Hendry making a comeback, but having spoken to him about it, all he meant was that if there were any big events with wild card places - like they have in golf and tennis - he would consider that. He definitely won't be practising six hours a day or going in for Q School (although I don't think he'd get through it anyway). He's much more interested in getting his golf handicap down and his poker earnings up!
All the best until next time.
Hi everyone and Happy New Year.
I hope you all had a great Christmas. I didn't get up to much, in fact I'm not really a huge fan of Christmas, I find it annoying the way the whole world stops for that period. I think it's ridiculous, the way people have to spend money that don't really have just to keep their children and family happy, I just think it puts unnecessary stress on people and families. Rant over :) However as snooker players, we are away from home a lot so it was nice to have a break and see my family. I stayed with my sister for a few days which was great. She has just had a beautiful little girl called Darcey who is two months old now. I enjoyed holding her and feeding her, although when she started crying I didn't know what to do so I just gave her back to my sister and left the room.
I am now living in Atherstone in Warwickshire, I'm loving it there and hopefully this will be a long term base for me. I have moved to a place where all I can do during the day is play snooker, which is what I need. It's nice to be around friends because when I was back in Essex it was getting boring and never really saw much of my friends. I hated it and I was pretty depressed for a few months. Apart from my family and a few friends there was nothing there for me.
Snooker-wise there is no doubt about it - I have gone backwards over the last 18 months, and it's no co-incidence that over that period I have been moving up and down the country without a settled place to live and practise. Since the Grove snooker club in Romford shut down, I have not had a permanent base. Up until then I moved up the rankings every year and got to 37th in the world, but since then I have gone back down. To be honest I have been poor, I have felt bad and played rubbish. Winning my qualifying match against Liam Highfield to get to the Haikou World Open was important because otherwise I've done nothing this season and at least it gives me one extra tournament to look forward to. Apart from getting to the Crucible, the whole of 2013 was pathetic. The only thing I need to concentrate on for the next five or six years is snooker.
I had always been a hard worker in the past and I'm looking forward to getting back to that now. The only event I really prepared properly for last season was the World Championship, and I got to the venue. I'm now playing at the Atack club in Nuneaton. The owner Ian White has been really good to me and said I could put a table in. The club is really nice and it's very busy which is surprising these days, with four competitive leagues running as well. I have started playing really well in practice and hopefully that will reflect itself in my performances.
Atherstone is in the middle of nowhere, but from the train station you can get everywhere - London, Manchester, Leicester and Sheffield. So I can get around a lot for matches with other players like Mark Selby, Shaun Murphy, Ben Woollaston and Dave Gilbert, although mainly I want to just practise on my own. I so badly just want to get my game back in shape. I'm looking forward to playing again because when you are playing badly you don't enjoy it, but when your game is coming together it's much more fun and it just gives you the desire to want to get up and go a practice all day every day. The UK Championship last month was the worst I have ever played and the worst I've ever felt. There are no excuses apart from me messing about and being an idiot and not focussing on what I needed to be doing. But that's behind me now. The target for the rest of the season is just to win as many matches as possible.
In the evenings I've been doing a lot of cooking and getting right into it. I'm marinating things on a Monday to cook for the rest of the week. I do a lot of stir fries which are beautiful. The poultry I'm having is so soft, so tender haha… it is insanely good and you're all welcome to come and try some!! I'm trying a few different things and I asked Hendry for a few tips as he thinks he is a good cook just because he watches Masterchef. Dave Gilbert is a decent cook as well and being a top farmer he cooks a mean sweet potato. It helps health wise to eat the right things and I have seen a massive change over the past six months since I've been eating properly. I recommend you all to get involved.
All the best until next time.
Last week we all went back to Barnsley for the German and Haikou qualifiers. I lost my match in the German Masters to a very impressive Li Hang 5-2, but then I managed to beat Liam Highfield 5-3 to qualify for Haikou. I started off very slowly, mostly down to my poor form this season and I felt very edgy, especially when I went 2-0 down. Somehow managed to get it back to 2-2 at the interval and that made my mid-session banana taste a lot better.
The fifth frame went down to the final black, and out of the corner of my eye I caught the Nugget (Steve Davis) looking over. If it had been anyone else I may have tried to play safe, but me being me, I tried to do something impressive in front of one of my peers, but sent the white ball straight into the black pocket. It wasn't one of my finest shots it has to be said...and the Nugget looked far from impressed. Liam had a few bits of bad luck after that, and I managed to get the win 5-3. I was a very relieved man.
It was a big relief for me to get a win because I've had a run of bad results recently. Apart from qualifying for the Crucible, 2013 has been one of the worst years of my snooker career.
Hopefully 2014 will bring a fresh start for me. My main New Year resolution will be to play as much snooker as I can and stop messing about. My results have been dire this season and that's down to one thing: shocking preperation. My old mentor Robbo Brazier would not be very happy now if he saw the way I was preparing for my snooker, he'd definitely have given me a slap by now and marched me in the right direction. I need to settle down and get my head down. Over the last couple of weeks I've been staying in Atherstone at the lovely Abigail and Dave Gilbert's and practising with Dave most days. He's a top player now and the last week or so has really helped. He gets a bit angry sometimes, that's why he's known as the angry farmer, but behind that miserable looking face he's a top guy.
My second resolution will be to keep going with the fitness work and diet I have been following for a few months. I am really enjoying it and I feel fantastic. The Vegan (Peter Ebdon) has been trying to convert me to become a vegan for a few months now. He's managed to get me to read up on it and if the truth be known, I actually agree with it all. But I just like my meat far too much to give it up.
My final resolution will be to stop talking to idiots. There are a few people on tour who I find mentally draining so I'm just going to stay away from them. I'd love to tell you who they are, but I can't afford any more fines at the moment!
There's a bit of a break now before the season gets going again. I'm thinking of going to Australia for Christmas. A former player called Nathan Williams lives in Perth and he has invited me over. I haven't had a holiday for a long time so it is very tempting.
I watched BBC Sports Personality of the Year on Sunday and I can't understand why Ronnie O'Sullivan wasn't among the shortlist of ten. He won the World Championship for a fifth time after taking nearly a year out, how many other people in sport could do that? He has won the World title five times, never lost a final at Sheffield, and he's the greatest talent we've ever seen. He walked the UK Championship when he was 17, and 20 years later he's still winning the big titles. So I don't know what he has to do to be on the shortlist. It was never in doubt that Andy Murray would win it, but I'd barely even heard of the bloke who came second, Leigh Halfpenny.
I also just want to mention Mark Selby's 147 at the UK Championship, which was the 100th maximum in snooker history. He missed the last black at the China Open last season which could have earned him £23,500, so he must have been twitching this time with £59,000 on the line. Mark doesn't need the money, but that's as much as most people earn in two years. There must have been an element of 'hit and hope' about the final black because he would have been nervous and he couldn't see the pocket. He just had to rely on his ability. Sport produces those very special moments when someone pulls off a brilliant shot when it really matters, like YE Yang's rescue club to win the 2009 USPGA. The fact that Mark was out of position on the colours made it more exciting.
Anyway, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and all the best for 2014.
The new series of I'm A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here has just started on ITV and I would never normally watch it, but this time I'll be watching or recording every episode to see how Steve Davis gets on. The Nugget has such a witty and dry sense of humour that I'm sure people will love him. He will be great value and I'm sure he'll be there right until the end. He is no spring chicken so he might have taken a while to get over the jet lag and he could suffer in the heat. But he is very fit so I expect him to deal with that. He is very shrewd and intelligent so he will handle all of the tasks. The only thing that surprises me about his decision to go into the jungle is that he is not guaranteed to keep his place on the tour and missing a few tournaments including the williamhill.com UK Championship could make the difference. Maybe if he gets relegated he'll try to butter Barry and Jason up for a wild card!
I played in the International Championship in Chengdu recently, but lost to Martin Gould. Ding Junhui won the tournament and it's great to watch him play so well. His cue ball control is phenomenal. He is the most 'special' player to come through since Ronnie O'Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams. I know Stephen Hendry rates him very highly, and he doesn't say that about many players. Ding has won the last three ranking events and nine in total. He's only 26 so he's got at least another ten years at the top - he could win 30 ranking events in his career. I don't think anyone will beat Hendry's record of 36, but Ding is good enough to go past everyone else.
In 2007 he was heavily beaten by Ronnie in the final of the Masters and I think it took him a long time to recover from that, but now he is showing his true class. I don't know him well but it's obvious that he's a very nice and friendly kid. I think Neil Robertson will want to rise to the challenge and of course Ronnie is such a force, then you've got Mark Allen who has won a couple of titles recently. The UK is going to be fascinating and I'm really looking forward to it. I've got Scott Donaldson in the first round and I'm hoping to find some form in York.
I am still working hard on my fitness and diet and getting towards my target. Peter Ebdon is trying to convert me to veganism, and I like the concept but I couldn't do it because I enjoy meat too much.
All the best until next time,
For the last two or three months I have been focussed on improving my fitness. It started when I was at a pro-am in Austria and I was getting changed. When I took my top off, Daniel Wells made a comment along the lines of me being overweight and hiding it well. I weighed myself and I was 14 stone. So I knew I had to do something as I used to be in good shape.
Since then I have been on a fitness regime. I have completely changed my diet because for the previous ten years I had eaten out twice a day. I used to go to Burger King or McDonalds every single day, and eat a lot of bacon rolls and other rubbish. My two previous girlfriends couldn't believe how much junk I ate and how much money I wasted. So I got some good advice from players like David Morris, Robin Hull and Liam Highfield who are into nutrition.
On a typical day now, I have porridge for breakfast, then salmon and mashed potatoes for lunch, a couple of bananas during the afternoon, then turkey and rice for dinner. And I drink nothing but water. My body fat has gone down from 23% to 15% in three months, and my target is to get to 10% by Christmas. I haven't found it difficult because I really enjoy eating healthy food. I have a lot more energy and I don't get lethargic, as I did before. I have never had a good physique before so it is good to see myself changing.
I'm also doing a lot of running and I've had some advice from Ronnie O'Sullivan on that side of things. It's all about getting your heart going and making your body burn the fat. My best time for 10km is 52 minutes and for 5km I've done 21 minutes 30 seconds. Liam and Ronnie are the best runners among the players and they are more like 40 minutes for 10km and 19 minutes for 5km. Hopefully I can keep improving my times. I'm also doing sets of ten uphill sprints, each 200m. Afterwards I sometimes feel sick, but it still feels really good.
The benefits of fitness work are massive. My resting heart rate is down to 51. And I have no doubt that it helps with snooker, especially in terms of maintaining concentration throughout a match.
Last week I won my qualifying match for the International Championship, beating Chris Norbury 6-0. I've just changed my cue and it was my first match with the new one so I was really pleased to win and play well. I had my previous cue for 13 years but I had felt for the last couple of years that it wasn't quite right. I went to see John Parris and he made me two cues. John is the man, in terms of craftsmanship he is the best. The one I chose was slightly thinner than my old one and it feels perfect. I was worried about changing because it's a big step. I spoke to Stephen Hendry and he said just bite the bullet and do it. He said he never would have changed his cue if it hadn't been broken. But he also said that as soon as I pot my first pressure ball with the new one then I would stop worrying. And in the first frame against Norbury I potted a long red and made 77 so I settled down straight away, and it was the best I have felt for a while. The balance on the cue is different and it allows me to screw back more easily and play shots that I have never played before.
I had lost in the first round of the three previous ranking events so this was a big win for me and takes a bit of pressure off. It has given me some confidence and hopefully it can kick-start my season. The biggest three tournaments of the season are the International, the UK and the World Championship so if I can do well in those three events I'll be fine.
Things were not great in my personal life earlier in the season, but I have got my head down now. I am practising at the Q Ball club in Chelmsford, using Mark King's table - he has been a massive help to me.
I'm looking forward to another trip to China and going to Chengdu for the first time. I went to the last Asian Tour event and even though I lost my first match, it was good match practice and it helped me decide to change my cue. I flew to China on my own but I ended up sitting next to a 28-year-old American girl who works for Rolls-Royce. We got on well and she lives in China so I might meet her next time I am there.
I also recently had a game of golf with Hendry and the England footballer John Terry. Stephen knows John so he asked him to meet us for a game at Wisley in Surrey, and he turned up after he'd finished training with Chelsea. It was the day they signed Samuel Eto'o and he was talking about what a good player he is. He was a really nice guy and much bigger than he looks on TV - he had the biggest back I've ever seen! Stephen and I played against John and his mate and we lost 2&1 but it was great fun.
All the best until next time.
For my column this month I've been asked to name my top ten snooker players of all time. I found it so hard that I had to make it a top 12, and name a few others as well! This is just my opinion and feel free to suggest your own top ten.
1. Ronnie O'Sullivan
By winning the World Championship in the last two years, Ronnie has moved to the top of my list. He can plays snooker that no one else is capable of. His performances at the Crucible in each of the last two years were incredible. At the moment he is the man to beat and he is favourite in every match he plays. Stephen Hendry has made the most century breaks but I expect Ronnie's ratio of centuries to frames is better. He is playing as well as he ever has and I definitely think he can beat Hendry's record of seven World titles.
2. John Higgins
He has won the World title in three different decades which is an amazing achievement. John was my favourite player when I first started watching snooker. He is a fantastic all-round player and wins a lot of titles without being at his best. His B game is good enough to take a lot of players apart. His knowledge of the game is phenomenal. He is one of the few players good enough to beat Ronnie even when Ronnie is playing well - and he has done so many times.
3. Stephen Hendry
Stephen is one of my best mates in snooker and I'm sure he'll be gutted to be at number three on my list! I wasn't watching snooker at the time when he was dominating the game so I can only go by the stats and the videos I have seen of him. In golf, people debate whether Tiger Woods is better than Jack Nicklaus and it's very difficult to compare because they played in different eras. In my eyes, Tiger is the best even though he has won less majors, but perhaps that's because I've watched so much of his career. Stephen has the most World titles and the most ranking titles. He had extraordinary mental strength and an aura which intimidated his opponents.
4. Steve Davis
Steve is now 72 years old but he still looks as good as ever at the table. He has superb technique and he is still winning a lot of matches. Overall he has won more titles than anyone and he has been a great ambassador for the sport. He didn't blow opponents away with big breaks in the way that Stephen and Ronnie can, but he would keep them on the baulk cushion and score heavily when he got chances. There is no doubt about my top four, but it is hard to put them in order. Put it this way: if all four of them were in their prime now, they would constantly be the top four in the world and the order would fluctuate. They are the all-time maestros of snooker.
5. Mark Williams
At one point Mark was my favourite player. In 2002/03 the standard at the top of the game was ridiculous as Stephen, John and Ronnie were all there. Mark won the UK Championship, the Masters and the World Championship that season which is extraordinary.
6. Peter Ebdon
This is where putting players in order gets harder, but I would have Peter at number six. He has won the World Championship and the UK Championship and nine ranking titles in all. Last year he won the China Open which proved his longevity. I don't really care what people say about him because in my view he deserves everything he has achieved and he could have won more. Believe me, he is a very talented player. I played him last year and he goes for some lunatic pots but gets a lot of them.
7. Neil Robertson
He is number one in the world and he still has a long way to go in his career. In ten years I can see him being a lot higher on this list. Neil is a born winner and already has eight ranking titles. He can win more World titles and it's great for the game to have an overseas player doing well.
8. John Parrott
Like Ebdon, John has won the World and UK titles and a total of nine ranking events. I didn't see him play that much but he was obviously a tremendous cueist.
9. Shaun Murphy
Shaun is another of that elite group who have won both the World and UK Championships. He has exceptional technique and showed a lot of bottle in winning at the Crucible at the age of just 22. Shaun is a good friend of mind so he won't mind me saying that, given those attributes, he should have won more. And I have no doubt that he will win a lot more in years to come.
10. Jimmy White
Even though the World title eluded him, Jimmy still has to be in the top ten given the fact that he has won ten ranking events plus the Masters. In his prime he must have been brilliant to watch and it's easy to see why people love him.
11. Ken Doherty
Ken is one of the cleverest players I've seen. He has been around for over 20 years and is still going strong, and his World title in 1997 was a great moment.
12. Mark Selby
Mark has been ranked number one for most of the past couple of years and he has also won three Masters titles.
So that's my top 12, although I could have easily added the likes of Ding Junhui, Judd Trump and Graeme Dott. I can't really comment on Ray Reardon, John Spencer and players before them as I just haven't seen enough of them playing. As I said, this is all just my opinion and others might have a different view!
All the best until next time.
Earlier this month I played in the European Tour event in Rotterdam. In my first match I played Peter Lines and won 4-2, which was the best match I have played in a long time. I had a 142 and a couple of other breaks over 50. It was a very clean match without many errors. Peter is one of the top ten players on tour on the tactical side and that's also one of my strengths so it was a good strategic battle. Then I lost 4-3 to Marcus Campbell in another very good and close match. I was 3-0 down and came back to 3-3 but he just got the better of the last frame.
Before that I spent a few weeks working hard on my game. I spent a week in Manchester doing solo practice on Shaun Murphy's table at Urmston Conservative Club. Then I had three days in Sheffield playing at the Star Academy, either on my own or with Aditya Mehta and Chris Keogan. You only get out what you put into this game and I saw the results in Rotterdam because I played some very good snooker.
I sometimes get asked what attributes are most important in snooker, and in my view the most vital thing is to be able to score heavily. Players who make a lot of big breaks will always have the chance to win tournaments. Neil Robertson has proved that, so has Judd Trump and of course Stephen Hendry. Neil can barely escape from a one-cushion snooker, but what he does have is a lot of fire-power, huge amounts of bottle and the best temperament on the planet. There are quite a few better all-round players than him, but he is number one in the world because of those strengths. That's why he's getting to virtually every final at the moment. You can't teach someone to have bottle, it's either there or it isn't.
I didn't really follow the Australian Goldfields Open because I was so sick not to be there. I got to the quarter-finals in the previous two years and it is one of my favourite tournaments, I love the crowd, the conditions and the town of Bendigo. I hope we go back there because Australia remains a relatively untapped territory for snooker. I know it comes down to supply and demand so I just hope there is enough demand for snooker there for it to succeed. We've done well in Germany because the fans love it there - the Tempodrom is packed with 2,000 people every day. I don't agree with players who don't enter the overseas events and I know Neil and Mark Selby had a dig at them in Australia. I realise it's a 24-hour flight but we are professionals and a few years ago we only had six ranking events. The likes of Neil, Mark, Shaun, Peter Ebdon and Ding (although I know he couldn't make it to Australia this time) are great ambassadors for our game playing in all the major events and we need more like them.
I was really pleased to see the ranking event in India announced and I hope all of the players will enter. I know billiards is huge in India and if Pankaj Advani and Aditya can keep doing well then hopefully snooker can reach a similar level. I would love to qualify and see a new country. I've heard they have some great golf courses there although I'll need to bring my Galvin Green waterproofs in case I sweat too much. I might give Jeev Milkha Singh a call and see if he fancies nine holes.
How many 28-year-olds can say they have been to the places I've been to thanks to snooker? And I get paid for it as well. A few players moan about prize money but the rewards are there if you win matches. We have got the right people at the helm now.
The one thing I don't agree with, as I have said before, is the change to the round structure for Shanghai and the World Championship which means that players ranked 33-48 now have to win three matches to get to the venue. I know there are more players on the tour now but in my view it should be the players at the bottom who have to play the extra match. The sooner we get to a flat 128 draw for all events the better. You still end up with the best players in the final - look at Bulgaria and Wuxi which were both John Higgins v Neil Robertson.
I recently bought a Smart Car - I wanted a Bugatti but I can't afford it yet. I was at an event in Austria and loads of people have them there. They look a bit funny but when you drive 30,000 miles a year you have to think about petrol costs, insurance and that kind of thing. The Smart Car does 100 miles to the gallon so I can drive from Romford to Manchester for £15.
I'm now looking forward to the Shanghai and India qualifiers and the Bluebell Wood Open in Doncaster (tickets available here), hoping to play more good snooker and get results.
All the best until next time.
I had a disappointing start to the season in the main ranking events, especially as they are such good opportunities to get to venues. In the Wuxi Classic qualifiers I lost to Chen Zhe and he was absolutely brilliant. It was probably the best anyone has ever played against me in the first four frames as he went 4-0 up. After the interval he collapsed and I got it back to 4-3 but I missed a pink when I was 38 ahead with a chance to get to 4-4, when I really fancied winning. He cleared up to win 5-3.
Then a few days later it was the Australian Goldfields Open qualifiers, I lost 5-2 to Ian Burns. I was devastated not to qualify for Oz because I love it out there and I've reached the quarter-finals in the last two years.
At the European Tour event in Bulgaria I played an amateur in the first round and won comfortably, then played Mark Davis and we had a really good game but I lost 4-2. I was happy with my performance but I lost a couple of frames from 50 points ahead, Mark made two great clearances. I was gutted to lose.
I flew straight to China for the Yixing Open Asian Tour event. I won three matches 4-0, all against Chinese players, and played pretty well. In my first match I played a 13-year-old called Yuan Sijun who can't have been more than four feet nine inches. He had great technique and a very good temperament. They have a tremendous set-up for coaching kids there and I'm sure he's going to be one to watch in the future. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens to him. A lot of people are talking about Lyu Haotian as well. I saw him play Neil Robertson in Chengdu last season and he looked impressive. There was no pressure on him then because he was a wild card, but this season there is pressure on him and he is winning matches. He's only 15 and it's exciting to see players that young coming through.
In the last 16 I lost 4-3 to Mark Selby. I was 2-0 up and should have capitalised but he made some good breaks to get back into it, then in the decider I broke off and he made 90.
So it was a slow start to the season but I feel as if I've gained a bit of momentum by winning a few matches in China. I've got a month now until the next event in Rotterdam (click here for tickets) so I'm just going to hit the practice table hard and make sure I'm ready for the next few tournaments.
I had no doubts about playing in the Asian Tour event even though I didn't qualify for Wuxi. If I didn't want to go to China to play for a £10,000 prize then I wouldn't be playing snooker. The hotel in Yixing was one of the best I have ever stayed in. A few of the guys were moaning about the playing conditions but I thought they were fine. Plus the Asian Tour events are an extra route into the Grand Finals which has big money available.
A few weeks Joe Perry said to me this will be the season when he plays in everything he can. Now he's won the tournament in Yixing and I'm really pleased for him. I'm young and I have fewer commitments than some other players so I have decided I'm going to try to play in every event. With the round structure we have now it's a much better chance to go deep in tournaments.
David Gilbert hit the nail on the head when we were talking at Gloucester during the Australia qualifiers. We were both losing at the interval and we had a chat about the new formats and the change to a prize-money based ranking list next season. He said that consistency means less now and it's much more about winning tournaments, or at least getting to the later stages. In golf you see players who miss three or four cuts in a row and then suddenly win a tournament. Snooker players who do that will be a lot better off than those who win one or two matches in each tournament. So it's all about being patient and waiting for a good run.
It has made it more enjoyable to know that we only need to win one match to get to venues, so we get more experience of playing there, in front of big crowds with the chance to win tournaments. Players like Joel Walker and David Morris would have had to win four matches in the past to get to the venue, and now they're playing in the last 32 or last 16. It's a fantastic opportunity.
Reanne Evans qualified for Wuxi with a superb win against Theychaiya Un-Nooh, from 3-0 down. Thepchaiya is my favourite player but she did really well to beat him. I felt a bit sorry for her having to play a wild card in Wuxi because taking on Neil Robertson would have been a great experience for her. She has won everything she can on the ladies circuit and it was good to see her having some success on the main tour. I watched her make a break of 79 in her wild card match and in terms of her break-building she doesn't look out of place.
I played in the World Snooker golf day this week at Collingtree Park in Northampton and unfortunately got partnered with three complete muppets - Shaun Murphy, his manager Brandon, and Ivan from World Snooker. But it was still a brilliant day and a lovely course. I hope there will be more golf days because there are a lot of snooker players who enjoy a round.
But it's back to snooker for the next few weeks and hopefully some success on the table.
All the best for now
It has been a few weeks now since I played in the World Championship so I have time to reflect on my Crucible experience. I was gutted that it took me so long to settle down against Mark Selby. I had chances in the first four frames but my high break was only 14. At 5-0 down I was just praying that I wouldn't lose 10-0. That definitely went through my mind.
I fought back well after that and finished the first session 6-3 down, then won the first frame of the second session to make it 6-4, and at that stage it was 'game on'. But Mark played better than me after that and I lost 10-4. If I had started the match well I feel as if I would have had a great chance to win.
Overall, despite the result it was the best experience of my snooker career so far. So many had people told me what a great arena the Crucible is, but it was still five times better than I expected. I just can't wait to get back and play there again.
After the World Championship I had two weeks off. I played a bit of golf but I have put the clubs away now to concentrate on the snooker season. I haven't been away, in fact I haven't been on holiday since 2008. My view is that life is one long holiday!
I have just moved clubs and had my table put into Rayleigh Lanes Snooker Club in Essex, the owner there has been really good and told me I can practise there whenever I want. Stuart Bingham is based there so I will be playing with him a lot. He is number six in the world now so there can't be many better players to practise with. Stuart tries 100 per cent on every shot in practice no matter what the score is, which shows what a good professional he is.
I have got some targets for this season, although I prefer not to say what they are at this stage. I have seen other players not far above me in the rankings achieve great things, like Barry Hawkins who was No 28 in the world not along ago, then went on to win the Australian Open and get to the final at the Crucible. That gives me the motivation to do something similar myself. I have been working with my coach Chris Henry and hopefully it won't be long before I get into my stride.
This week the new system for ranking events is coming into effect at the Wuxi Classic qualifiers. I'm playing Chen Zhe in my first match tonight. Just in the first session this morning, players likes Gareth Green, John Astley and Scott Donaldson qualified for the final stages in China. It's great to see new faces and if they win they get to go to a proper venue and earn prize money much more quickly than they did under the old system. That must be a good thing and it's only the greedy minority who disagree.
There are things I don't agree with, particularly changes which have been made to the round structure of the tournaments which are not going to a flat draw, including the World Championship. There was a players' meeting in Gloucester today so I had the chance to give my views.
All the best for now and hopefully I can get off to a winning start!
"On the Sunday before the World Championship started, I beat Ken Doherty 10-9 in the last qualifying round to reach the Crucible for the first time. I was doing some interviews after the match and it started to sink in. It's my biggest achievement in snooker so far, bigger than getting to the quarter-finals in Australia for each of the last two years. My dream in the sport is to win a tournament so I'm a long way short of that, but it's a big step in the right direction. I was on twitter the next day and I saw a picture of the Crucible being set up for the tournament, and it gave me butterflies just thinking about the fact that I'm going to walk down those steps into the arena.
Funnily enough the first time I watched the World Championship on TV was the year Ken won it - in 1997 when I was 12. After that I was glued to it year after year. I started practising with Mark King and I went to see him play at the Crucible in 2001 - and since then I've been many times to watch, seeing my heroes and wondering what it would be like to play there myself. It's such a compact venue and you are so close to your opponent. I know a lot of players struggle on their debuts there and I've got to concentrate on the job and keep in mind that I'm there to win the match. I know if I play well then I can compete.
I was pleased to draw Mark Selby despite the fact that he's world number one and a fantastic player. His strengths are tactics and safety and I don't mind getting stuck in. There are few players better tactically than Ken and I managed to beat him. I learned a lot about myself during that match. I was 9-4 up and felt as if I was going to win comfortably, then Ken fought back to 9-9 and I was under a lot of pressure. But I played a good deciding frame and got the job done.
Ken wished me luck after the match which was good of him because I could see he was hurting. In a way it's better to lose 10-4 then 10-9. He is a good friend of mine and I'm sure I will chat to him at the Crucible. I want to ask him about the match and how he feels I can improve. I've been around for a few years and I'm 28 now but I still feel as if I have a lot to learn in the game. The first time I qualified for a venue I played John Higgins in Shanghai and he beat me 5-2. After we'd signed the match sheet I ran after him and asked him if he had any advice for me. I did the same after I played Stephen Hendry for the first time.
I'm really looking forward to next season and hoping I can climb the rankings. My view about the structure of the game is that the way it is now makes it very difficult to climb to the top because the players at the bottom have to win four matches just to get to a venue. Those at the top - the likes of Neil Robertson, Mark Selby, Shaun Murphy, Stephen Maguire, Ding Junhui, Mark Allen and Judd Trump - are among the best players the game has ever seen. And the fact that they are seeded through to every venue makes it so tough for anyone else to get into the top 16. The new system we will see for most tournaments next season, with everyone starting in round one, will make it easier for talented players to come through faster.
Earlier this season I took a break from snooker, for the first time in years I just didn't want to play. I got very good at golf but my snooker suffered. I got my hunger back in the new year and now I've got a couple of good results. I'm not the type of player, like Robertson, who doesn't have to practise that much, I know I need to work hard on my game. My old manager Robbo Brazier used to drum into me how important it was to practise for hour after hour, he always talked about how much solo work Steve Davis did during his hey-day. I've learned that lesson now and I intend to keep it up."
For the last few weeks I've had my head down, practising to be ready for the Betfair World Championship qualifiers. I have been driving from Romford to Cambridge every day to play at the club there. I've spent three days a week doing four or five hours on my own, then on the other days I've had matches against the likes of Jamie O'Neill, Joe Perry and Stuart Bingham.
It has been great to have high quality practice partners and I feel as if my game is in good shape. I beat Bingham 5-4 and Perry 10-7 though of course it's all about taking that form to the match table. I'm enjoying it and I feel as if I can do some damage in the tournament.
When the draw was released on Monday I realised I could be playing Jamie O'Neill in my first match, but the fact that we've been practising together doesn't really make much difference. I remember a few years ago I drew Liu Song in a tournament, who was one of my practice partners at the time. I asked Ronnie O'Sullivan whether I should stop playing him, and Ronnie said no, I should practise with him more, bash him up and make him think he can't beat me!
Jamie has got Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon in his first match with the winner to play Mike Dunn, then I'll play the winner of that. Any of the three of them could come through but I think I'm most likely to play Thanawat. I played him in the UK Championship and won 6-4 but it wasn't a very good game. If I can win my opening match I'll play Ken Doherty to qualify, Ken is a good mate of mine. I'm trying not to look any further than my first match but to qualify for the Crucible would be amazing, it has been one of my ambitions to play there since I was a child. It's one of the few venues I haven't played at and there is so much history there.
I have seen good friends of mine like David Gilbert and Jimmy Robertson play there in recent years and that has given me the hunger to qualify myself. It's a massive tournament.
I watched some of the China Open last week. I really enjoyed Neil Robertson's semi-final against Stephen Maguire, the standard was phenomenal, it was really blow for blow and Neil got through 6-5. I didn't watch much of the final, it looked like a really tough match. I read Shaun Murphy's comments about Mark Selby after he lost in the semi-finals and I thought he was spot on. Mark is a ridiculously good player and number one in the world but he seems to have a way of bringing the worst out of his opponents.
Next week I'll be watching the Masters, the first golf major of the year. It's hard to see anyone beating Tiger Woods, his ball striking is as good as it's ever been and his putting is back. He has won a couple of big events recently and when he's winning he makes all of the other players look ordinary. When he's on form there are not many players who can live with him. One of them was Rory McIlroy, but I think he has sacrificed his chance to become the greatest player ever by taking a massive pay day and switching to Nike equipment. At the end of last season he was on fire and won the USPGA by eight shots. Now he has changed clubs, he is struggling with his game and he has jeopardised his chances. I can't see any of the British players winning it, though I think the two South Africans Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen both have a chance. And for an outside bet I like Henrik Stenson.
Anyway, it's all about the World qualifiers now and hopefully in my next blog I'll have some good results to look back on.
All the best for now
Earlier this month I played in the Welsh Open qualifiers and beat Jordan Brown 4-1 in my first match then lost 4-2 to Stuart Bingham. Jordan is an amateur so it looked like a good draw but I know he's a very good player and he beat John Higgins earlier this season. I played well and made some good breaks although the scoreline flattered me a bit. Stuart was a tough draw as he's been one of the best players in the world this season, winning the Premier League and two APTCs. I practise with him so I know his game, and I beat him in Australia earlier this season, so I wasn't worried about playing him as I always enjoy taking on the top players.. It was a close match and could have gone either way but he did well to win and of course he ended up getting to the final.
I watched a lot of the Welsh Open on TV. Stuart probably should have won it in the end, he had a great chance to go 8-5 up in the final and the tournament was won and lost in that frame. He has been a prolific winner this year and he was pretty much flawless in the final, it was a phenomenal standard. But pressure gets to everyone and maybe it affected him towards the end. I was pleased in a way to see Maguire win because it has been a ridiculously long time since he won a ranking event. Back in 2004 when he won the UK Championship, I would have said he was a certainty to win the World Championship by now. He is back where he belongs now and he has a real chance in Sheffield this year.
The standard of snooker in Newport was very high, everyone is making a lot of big breaks - Judd Trump already has over 50 centuries this season. I also enjoyed watching the Harlem Shake, it was one of the best things I've seen this season. At first I thought it was a joke and the footage had been messed around with!
Looking ahead to Sheffield, I think there are at least ten possible winners. John Higgins is still the best player in my eyes, although he has been struggling recently. Judd can blow people away, while Neil Robertson, Mark Selby and Ding Junhui have got to be strong contenders. But the player I think will win it is Ali Carter - he has been in two finals at the Crucible and both times he was up against Ronnie O'Sullivan at his best so he was never going to win. Next week we'll find out whether Ronnie has entered the event. Personally I think that he will enter, although even then there's no certainty that he will actually play. It will be great for the sport if he is there to defend his title. Perhaps if he wins it again he'll retire, who knows? In a way I think it's sad that he remains such a big talking point even when he's not playing, but I suppose it's because he's still the biggest name.
I really enjoyed the one-frame Shoot Out in Blackpool. I beat Graeme Dott - who got to the final last year - in the first round, then I played Stephen Maguire and I just couldn't handle the shot clock. I couldn't do anything other than run around the table and hit balls, and they were just never going to find the pockets. In my view, having a shot clock of 15 and 10 seconds is ludicrous, it's too short and it should go back to 20 and 15 seconds. But the fans love it and I suppose that's what it's all about. Plus the prize money was good, especially for Martin Gould who won £32,000 in a weekend.
I haven't qualified for either of the events in China coming up, so for me it's all about the World Championship. Obviously I would rather have got to at least one of the tournaments in China, but looking on the bright side it means I have five or six weeks of proper preparation for the World qualifiers, and I am getting down to some serious work. I practised hard before the Welsh Open qualifiers and I felt as if I was hitting the ball brilliantly. For two to three weeks I was playing four or five hours a day on my own. Players who say they practise seven hours a day are talking nonsense. The only one I know who works that hard is Selby. It would have been nice to win more matches but I felt as if my game was in a good place. So with another six weeks of hard work I will be ready.
Away from snooker, I have been following the fortunes of my football team Aston Villa. I don't think we'll be relegated although we're not out of the woods yet. I don't know what Paul Lambert is doing experimenting with inexperienced players as it's not worth jeopardising our place in the Premier League. Darren Bent can score 20 goals a season but he's sitting on the bench, while Christian Benteke plays every week and is very inconsistent. I just hope we can stay up and rebuild for next season.
I'll also be following the WGC World Matchplay Golf this weekend and I've had one or two bets. I think Tiger Woods is phenomenal value at 12/1, and I've had a first round treble on Woods, Luke Donald and Keegan Bradley. I have backed four winners over the past four weeks so I'm on a roll. It's not long until the first major of the season, The Masters. Shaun Murphy and I were talking about making the trip to Augusta one year. For £30,000 you can fly there first class, see all four days of action and then play the course the day after. I'm going to start saving!
All the best until next time.
Christmas and New Year this time around was just a mega relaxation period for me. I thought I'd take advantage of the little time off we get before a hectic year ahead. It was nice to see all my family again and spend some quality time with them.
Last month at our AGM in Sheffield, Barry Hearn talked about changes to the structures of tournaments next season, with all players to start in round one of eight of the 11 rankings events. My views are quite simple on the flatter structures: it's the best thing that could possibly happen to the sport. For me, where I am ranked, it makes no difference, as I have to win two matches now to get the last 32, as I would have to starting from round one in a draw of 128. But I do think it will make the game more appealing to younger players who actually want to become professional snooker players.
Players who come on the tour now have to win two matches to get very little money, but with a flat structure, they'll only have to win one, which is much fairer. I understand some top players aren't going to be thrilled with the decision, and that's understandable because they have worked extremely hard to get to the top of the game, and also they are sacrificing a lot if they are guaranteed zero prize money. But at the same time, if they are as good as their ranking suggests then I'm sure they'll have no problem keeping themselves at the top. Shaun Murphy hit the nail on the head when he said that, with a level playing field, we will see who the best players in the world are on current from, not on what they did two or three years ago.
Over Christmas and New Year I watched nearly all of the darts World Championship and firstly I must say that the match between Michael van Gerwen and Aidy Lewis was probably the best piece of sport I have ever seen. The standard of that game was phenomenal. I saw the epic final in 2007, which for drama will never be touched, but for actual standard and blow for blow attacks this one was amazing. It was just savage tungsten and a privilege to watch!
There were a lot of talking points during this year's tournament. Van Gerwen is the darts equivalent of Judd Trump if you like, people tune in to watch him go berserk and annihilate the treble 20. Then you had the game between Lewis and van Gerwen - Twitter and Facebook were going mental while that game was going on. And then how can we forget the bust up between Raymond van Barneveld and Phil Taylor.... I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw what happened on that stage. The first thing I thought was that The Power is bang out of order. It was the semi final of the World, there was a huge comeback from Barney, and then after hitting double 16, The Power shook everyone's hand on the stage before he shook Barney's. I mean come on, what's all that about!
Personally I thought Van Gerwen would win the final, but at the age of 27 I got taught a lesson: don't ever underestimate the greatest player in his sport! I didn't think Taylor, after watching him all tournament, had that kind of performance in him, especially at the age of 52. It really was a master class and the true meaning of watching a genius at work!
As far as sporting greats go, I doubt you will ever be able to find someone who dominates their sport the way that Taylor has done over the past 20 years. He has got to be a contender for the GREATEST sportsman of all time. I've definitely got him in my top three, just behind the great MJ Williams and J Trump!
I think rivalry is great for any sport, it gets people watching. In snooker, generally 99% of the players on tour are top people, mostly we have all grown up together so most of us know each other pretty well. You get the odd idiot here and there but that's to be expected in any walk of life.
My performances on the table in 2012 were pretty dire if I'm honest. It's going to be a year that I'm going to forget rather quickly. Getting to the quarter-finals in Australia was good, but apart from that I've been way below par. I don't think moving all over the place helped my cause, but ultimately my work ethic quite frankly has been pathetic. If Robbo Brazier (Steve Davis's old driver), who was like a father to me, saw how little work I'd done over the past six months then I'm pretty sure he would've given me a slap. I've got a lot of work to do for 2013, but there's no time like the present to start making amends.
For this year my ambitions are to just practise my socks off and prepare properly for every tournament, try my best and just see what happens. I'm sure there is a W inside me somewhere, just got to get it out!
Until next time folks, Happy New Year and keep it real.
The Selt x
I haven't done great in the PTC events this season and I'm pretty disappointed with the way my results have gone. I've played some tough matches but I still should have done a lot better and I've only MYSELF to blame. I do feel that all the travelling for the PTCs definitely affects my preparation for the major tournaments, but at the same time they're great for match practice and if you do well then the rewards are there to be had. Personally I'll be glad if the number of PTCs gets reduced so I can concentrate more on the major tournaments. They are very important though for the game to develop in Europe and the foreign ones this year have all been awesome, great venues, great tables and great crowds. It's amazing what Barry Hearn has done to the game so far and the opportunities have never been better, though myself and a few other players do question whether we still need the PTC events in England.
I've just played in the UK Championship and German Masters qualifiers. I probably played the worst I ever have against Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon and I thought I was going to be going home after my first match. But luckily for me Thanawat didn't play as well as he can and he let me off the hook on more than one occasion and I ended up winning 6-4. In the final qualifying round I lost to Ryan Day 6-3 but it wasn't a pretty game. I took the lead 1-0 and then had numerous chances over the next five frames but lost them all and it's a long way back from 1-5. The highlight of the match for me was making a 99 break in 3:38 seconds! I was just running around smashing the balls in. It's amazing what happens when you've resigned yourself to getting beat. The last frame was quite funny too, I found myself 50 odd down but had a chance to clear up, I potted the pink with the rest to split the reds and I could see a red heading towards the pocket, so as it dropped I just offered a hand shake to Ryan as I couldn't win. Overall Ryan deserved to win. I hope he goes on to have a good run in the rest of the tournament.
In the German qualifiers I played Robbie Williams first and won 5-3. I was quite happy with the way I played, my game was good even though I couldn't seem to make a 50 break, so it was more of a solid victory. The next game for me was the one that has hurt me the most as a professional. I played Marco Fu and it was an amazing match, I had 135, 88 and 65 to go 3-1 at the interval then Marco won a good fifth frame with a 66. In the sixth I was 40 up and Marco fluked a red and cleared up with 62. I was gutted, but somehow I managed to win the next with 57 after Marco missed a black in the balls. At 4-3 I had a great chance to win it but missed an easy red and Marco won the frame with an 87. In the decider I had another great chance but missed a black off the spot when I could have built a pretty big lead. It turned out that I lost it there and I felt absolutely sick. That game hurt me a lot but its been a while since I've been so gutted to lose, so I'm looking forward to the World Open qualifiers now in a few weeks to try and make amends!
When Judd Trump won the International Championship, a few people had a pop at me on Twitter and I'm not too sure why. I think it was his mate Ryan, the one who shouts out at every match he plays. I don't really speak to Judd any more which is a shame because we were good mates up until about a year ago, in fact the only reason he's in Essex is because I set him up with his manager Django and told him that Essex was the place for him to improve and that most of the top players are in that area. Anyway, after he beat Neil Robertson in the final and got to world number one I texted his dad Steve just to say 'congratulations', and the next thing I know I'm getting slated. I don't expect anything else from someone who's got a big mouth though.
It's great to see someone come in and take the game by storm in the way that Judd has, now that Ronnie O'Sullivan looks to have stopped playing for good. I just hope he handles the pressure well of being the next big thing. He's always had the talent.
I also had a few comments from Mark Williams, but I'm not too fussed what he has to say because I don't know too many people who listen to a man who still wears tracksuits at the age of 40. Come on Mark, what size jeans are you? I'll treat you for Christmas...
Over the past seven years or so I've got to know Ronnie very well. I never thought he'd ever have this amount of time off from playing. I thought he'd come back and play, especially at the World Championship, but as every day passes I think there's more chance that he won't. I'm a little gutted that he's stopped playing because EVERYONE wants to sit down and watch him in full flight. Luckily for me I had two to three years of playing him three or four times a week and I have learnt an awful lot from the man. He really is a genius and I hope he makes a return soon.
I've not really been up to much off the table, the golf clubs are away until the summer time now. It's time to get back to heavy practice and start to prepare for the World Championship. I haven't qualified for the Crucible yet, it's one of the few venues I haven't played at. But it's the main one that everyone wants to get to. Seeing a few of my close mates like Dave Gilbert and Jimmy Robertson qualify over the past couple of years has given me an extra bit of drive to try and get there this year. The way that my game is now, if I play well then there's no reason why I shouldn't be there in April...apart from the two tough opponents that will be in my way!
All the best until next time
Last month at UKPTC3 I lost 4-3 to Alan McManus on the final black, and after that I decided to put my cue away for a while. I didn't touch it for six weeks. Sometimes you just need a break from the game. I was supposed to go to the second APTC event but there's a lot of travelling on the tour and I felt low on energy so I decided to withdraw. Sometimes you put a lot of time into practice when you're doing something wrong that you don't know about. If you take a break then it re-sets your memory and you feel fresh when you come back. I have spent a lot of time over the years with Neil Robertson and he only practises as much as he needs to, and he is still able to produce great snooker at tournaments.
So I went into the PTC event in Antwerp last weekend feeling a lot fresher, and it paid off as I played really well in my first two matches. You can't beat the feeling of winning, and I have an appetite for the game now, looking ahead to the next two PTCs and the UK Championship qualifiers next month.
I beat Jamie Jones 4-0 then Ding Junhui 4-1. I rate Ding as one of the best players on the tour so it was really encouraging to totally outplay him, I have to put it down as one of my best wins. But in the third round I lost 4-0 to Jack Lisowski, he played very well.
Jack is one of a number of very good players on the tour at the moment aged in their early 20s. I think he needs to improve his shot selection, but he has a lot of talent and he has learned a lot from Judd Trump. I rate Michael White as the best player currently coming through the ranks. He had a few years on tour where he wasn't making much progress, but now suddenly he is qualifying for venues and doing well in the PTC events. It's great to see young players doing well, because for a long time there weren't many in that age bracket coming through. The PTCs are giving young amateurs the chance to compete against professionals and you can't beat that type of experience.
Steve Davis recently said that eventually the Chinese players would dominate, but I'm not so sure. So far Ding is the only one who has won titles. A lot depends on whether we end up having to go to China to play qualifiers. When you take players out of their comfort zone and send them to another country, it is tough. The Chinese players have had to go through that and maybe that's why more of them have not climbed to the top.
Away from snooker, I've been playing a lot of golf of course and had a couple of good rounds in competitions, scoring 37 and 38 points in stableford events. I'm changing my swing at the moment and if I can drive the ball straight then I can get my handicap down to scratch.
I have also been following the Lance Armstrong case and I think it's harsh that he has been stripped of seven Tour de France titles, and his legacy completely destroyed. He did a lot for the sport and really put cycling on the map. I can't believe his success was just down to drugs. It seems likely that a lot of cyclists were taking something, so you might as well just let them all take drugs and then see who's the best! Plus it's hard to understand why they didn't catch him while he was still racing.
Anyway, all the best until next time.
It hasn't been a great month for me on the table as I went out early in the PTC events and lost my qualifying match for the International Championship, 6-3 against Cao Yupeng. I've had a few distractions away from snooker as I'm in the process of moving from Romford up to Manchester and I've been staying in a hotel so I haven't practised as much as I normally would. That will all be sorted out soon and I'll be back into a routine.
I haven't played that badly but I've lacked sharpness in matches and made too many mistakes, and at this level those small fractions can make a big difference. It's a long season and I don't let a few bad results get me down, although of course it hurts to lose. I've known Neil Robertson long enough to know that when he loses he just shrugs it off and looks forward to the next one, which is the best way to be.
I'm really pleased that from 2014/15 we're doing away with world ranking points and changing to a prize money list. The money we are earning now will count in 2014/15 and I won 15,000 dollars by getting to the quarter-finals of the Australian Goldfields Open so that's a good start.
A lot of players have been talking about it over the past week and the main complaints are that players should earn prize money from round one, and that tournaments should have flatter structures otherwise the top 16 will be too protected. I know that World Snooker and the WPBSA are looking at both of those issues and I'm sure given time they will get it right. We've already got flatter structures in the Welsh Open and German Masters this season with bands of 32 rather than 16.
Look at Barry Hawkins: he won the Australia tournament this season, a major ranking event, and he only moved up three places in the world rankings, from 23rd to 20th. On a money list he would have moved up a lot more. Or look at Cao Yupeng - he got to the last 16 of the World Championship last season and didn't even earn an automatic place on the tour. It's difficult for young players like Cao and Luca Brecel to climb the rankings quickly because they have to win so many matches.
At the moment, the runner-up in a tournament gets 80 per cent of the ranking points that the winner gets. That can't be right - the winner should be a lot better rewarded and he will be under the prize money system.
I've spoken to Shaun Murphy and Neil Robertson about the money list and they both think it's a great idea as it will reward players who get to the later stages of tournaments. Whatever ranking system you use, the best players will get to the top. But you should be able to climb quickly if you're a winner. For me it is a great incentive and it makes me want to win even more.
Later this month I'm off to China for the second Asian Players Tour Championship event in Yixing. The APTC events are good tournaments in their own right in terms of the set up and the conditions so I'm looking forward to it. It's a shame I didn't qualify for the Shanghai Masters so I could have played in both in the same trip, but at least it gives me a bit more time to practise. I've been over to Widnes to play with Ricky Walden and Andrew Higginson as they have a great facility there.
Away from snooker, as usual I've been playing a lot of golf. I have joined The Mere in Cheshire, where Shaun plays, and got a handicap for the first time. I handed in two scorecards, one round of 73 and one of 76, on a par-71 course and I couldn't believe it when they gave me a handicap of two! I think I should be more like five or six but I would rather have a low handicap because it's a target to aspire to. Shaun is distraught because he's probably a better player than me and he is off five. He's playing really well at the moment, he missed a three-foot putt to shoot one-under in a competition. And the last time I played with him he was two under after 11 holes, but then blew up and shot eight over.
I really enjoy golf and I've played almost every day since the International Championship qualifiers. I'll admit it has interfered with my snooker a little bit, though once the summer is over and I've moved into my new flat I'll be a lot more focussed on snooker. Even if I'd had the choice I would never want to be anything other than a snooker player as I love the game so much. But when I'm 50 and finished with snooker I'd like to have a go on the seniors golf tour....especially if Shaun will caddy for me!
All the best until next time.
In my last diary entry I was just about to head Down Under for the Australian Goldfields Open, and it proved a good trip as I got to the quarter-finals.
I beat Stuart Bingham 5-4 in my first match and that was a great win for me because I'd never played anyone defending a title before. That gave me a real boost of confidence. Then I beat Ryan Day 5-3, I didn't play well but had a lot of run of the ball. In the quarters I played Barry Hawkins and actually played better than I had done in the other two matches. It was a really high standard and I only missed a couple of balls. Barry's safety was superb and he scored heavily as well to beat me 5-3.
I was gutted to lose, because before that match I genuinely believed that I could win the tournament. I was enjoying it and handling the pressure well. It's the first time I have had that feeling and there's a big difference between telling yourself you can win tournaments, and actually believing it. I'm looking forward to being in that situation again. Other than playing, I didn't do much in Australia as I wanted to keep focussed on the event. I went out one night with Mark Selby and his manager Mukesh. And another night I managed to get into a couple of rows with other players, which helps keep things interesting!
Everyone on the Tour now has so much opportunity and I think that's why the likes of Stuart and Barry have won tournaments. It used to be the case that you would never play someone like John Higgins, Stephen Hendry or Ronnie O'Sullivan until you qualified for a venue, but now with the PTC events, the players lower down the rankings have got used to the pressure of competing against the top guys - and beating them.
Likewise, if I play someone lower down the rankings than me, I know that if I am not 100 per cent on my game then they can beat me. In UKPTC1 I lost 4-1 to Ian Burns and in the Shanghai Masters qualifiers I lost 5-4 to Aditya Mehta, and they both played really well. I found the PTC event difficult because I was still getting over jet-lag and my match was at 9am...whose idea was that! I'm feeling fine now and looking forward to the next few tournaments.
At the moment I'm in the process of moving from my home in Romford up to Manchester. I've bought a two-bedroom flat on the top floor of a new development and I'll be moving in at the end of August. I'll have a mortgage but that will be a good thing for me as it's something I have to pay for every month rather than throwing my money away! The main reason I've moved up there is my girlfriend Jayne. We've been together for seven months and it's going well.
The flat is ten minutes drive from Sale Conservative Club, where I'll be practising. Shaun Murphy is based there and it's a really nice club. It's also ten minutes drive from The Mere where Shaun plays golf, and I'm joining the club as well. Shaun and I have been playing a lot of golf lately, in fact we should really get back to snooker! I've beaten him a couple of times but we are both playing well and making a lot of birdies. My handicap is nine and his is six, but at this rate by Christmas we'll both be down to two or three. His ball striking is better than mine, but he reckons I'm the best amateur in the world from inside eight feet!
I also enjoy watching golf on TV and I had a bet on Adam Scott to win the Open so I couldn't believe it when he bogied the last four holes to lose by one to Ernie Els. I'm too young to remember Greg Norman throwing away a few majors, but in my view Scott's was the biggest collapse ever. For someone of his talent to make bogies from prime position in the fairway is shocking. It just shows you what pressure can do at the top level of sport, even to a player as laid back as Scott.
All the best until next time.
Hi everyone and welcome to my new worldsnooker.com diary!
It's only July but already the snooker season is well underway. I started off last month at the Wuxi Classic qualifiers and after a good win against Simon Bedford in my first match, I lost 5-4 to Peter Ebdon in the final qualifying round. Peter is probably the best player I could have faced in that round, he is so good tactically. He's also a big name and I really wanted to beat him so I was disappointed to lose. It was a long match although I don't have a problem keeping my focus in a game like that. There was a big turning point when I was 1-0 up and playing from black to yellow - I got a massive kick which cost me the frame. After that it was very close, but in the last frame I played a really bad safety and he made a 90-odd break. I was just annoyed that I didn't give myself a chance in the decider.
But I bounced back well in the Australian Goldfields Open qualifiers, winning two matches to qualify for the venue. Against Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, who I rate very highly, I was 3-1 down and I hadn't done much wrong. I knew I would get chances after the interval because his safety is not brilliant, and I played well to come back to win 5-3. Then I played Jamie Jones and again he started like a train, going 2-0 up with two breaks in the 80s. In the third frame I made 55 then played a poor safety and let him in, and it looked as if he was going to win the frame but he missed a black off the spot and I nicked it. That changed the match because at 3-0 down it would have been very difficult, but instead I came back to win 5-2. I have to give a lot of credit to Jamie for getting to the quarter-finals at the Crucible last season, that was a phenomenal achievement. He hasn't had the best start to this season but I doubt he feels under any more pressure.
In June I went to China to play in the Asian Players Tour Championship event. As soon as the three APTC events were announced I made the decision to play in all three of them. It wasn't a hard decision at all because you can't put a price on ranking points. Some people have used the word 'blackmail' when talking about the PTCs, but I see them as a great opportunity. The APTCs are a chance to get a place in the Grand Finals and climb up the rankings. Look at Stuart Bingham - he won the event and now he knows he's in the Grand Finals and doesn't have to worry about that for the rest of the season. If I had a wife and kids then it would have been a much harder decision.
The APTC was in Zhangjiagang and the set-up was amazing, it was played in a proper stadium with a big arena. I played Lu Ning in the first round, he's one of the best Chinese amateurs and he beat me 4-2. I was gutted to lose early on but I didn't play badly.
Overall I've got to be happy with my start to the season and it is important to get off to a good start, even though there are so many tournaments. I haven't set any particular targets for the season other than to win as many matches as I can. I believe that my technique is as good as virtually anyone's, and I have recently teamed up with someone to work with on the mental side, which hopefully will be a big help. Looking at the four players who got to the semi-finals in Wuxi last weekend, I know I'm as good as any of them. There are a lot of opportunities in snooker now and it's a huge incentive to be successful.
I'm flying to Australia this week as the tournament in Bendigo starts on Monday. It's such a long journey and at the moment I'm trying to decide whether to upgrade from economy to business, which would cost about £1,400 each way. Last year I flew economy which is tough on such a long journey, so I might bite the bullet and pay the extra this time. I've just bought an ipad and I've been on itunes loading it up with films, music and TV to watch on the flight. I love Only Fools And Horses and also Fresh Meat, which is a bit like The Inbetweeners. I'm the only player on my flight, which might be a good thing. At least I won't have to sit next to Gerard Greene and Mark Davis, listening to their relentless negativity!
When I get to Australia I'll be staying in Melbourne for a few days and meeting up with Neil Robertson and Johl Younger. Johl was on the tour a few years ago and he's a wild card for this event, he's a good guy and I'm looking forward to seeing him again. I'll spend a few days in Melbourne, see a few of the sights and have a game of golf with Shaun Murphy. On Friday evening I'm going to Bendigo with Neil for a Welcome Function hosted by the Mayor of Bendigo.
Last year in Australia I got to the quarter-finals, beating John Higgins and Stephen Hendry. Hopefully the venue will bring back some positive memories for me and I can have another good run. I'm playing Stuart Bingham in the first round, he's the defending champion and he's had a great start to the season. I enjoy taking on players at the top of their game because it's always a good match.
Away from snooker, I've been playing a fair bit of golf, especially with Shaun Murphy at his club, The Mere in Cheshire, which has a beautiful course. His handicap is six and mine's nine so he gives me three shots, and so far I've had the upper hand. The last time we played, he was one up coming down the 18th, a par five. He hit a great drive then hit his second shot into the semi rough just short of the green. But when we got up there he couldn't find the ball, it had disappeared! I ended up winning the hole and halving the match...he was gutted!
When I get back from Australia I'm going to move from Romford to Manchester, so I've been up there a few times to have a look for places to live. Shaun has been very good to me and said I can use his snooker table to practise on. But for now I'm focussed on doing well in Bendigo.
All the best until next time.
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Ball by ball scoring and results from tournaments