Ahead of yesterday’s opening match at the Masters, the always interesting (and fair) Hector Nunns had published this interview on inside-snooker. It somehow went under the radar but that I find quite telling.
Ronnie O’Sullivan starts the defence of his Masters crown hoping some advice to opponent Liang Wenbo does not backfire on him on Sunday afternoon.
The Rocket is going for a record seventh title in the prestigious invitation tournament, staged at Alexandra Palace in north London.
And the two know each very well, having forged a close friendship following years as practice partners at the Grove facility in Romford.
Wenbo, 29, was challenging Ding Junhui for the China No1 tag some years ago and then lost his way in the game, badly underachieving given his unquestioned ability.
But he started to punch his weight by reaching the final of the UK Championship in 2015, and then finally claimed a first ranking title success at the English Open this season.
And five-time world champion O’Sullivan, 41, hopes some help contributed to Liang finding his way out of the wilderness.
O’Sullivan said: “I have known him for years, he used to practice eight hours a day in Romford and I told him he was overdoing it.
“I told him to go and have a life, do only two or three hours. He was doing all that time and still couldn’t pot a ball in tournaments.
“So I told him to go to Sheffield, see his Chinese mates, see his family – and not to do what I did at his age. And he has done it and never been happier.
“I have passed on a few mental skills and technique tips, and he is one of my close friends. I like to help people.
“And I have helped some of the younger Chinese players based here. I like to help people in my field, I know how tough it can be.
“They are nice kids, and have looked after me here, they are genuine. The bit I am giving them is the easy bit, the tough bit is going out and doing it.”
O’Sullivan also revealed that he is helping the young Chinese players passing through the Grove, that he still uses as an occasional base.
But worryingly he does not see many if any teenage talents in the UK equally worthy of the same kind of mentoring.
O’Sullivan added: “There is no one to pass it on to in the UK of the right age. If you look at what we have in England there is Kyren Wilson, but he is 25 I think.
“I don’t see no 15- or 16-year-olds out there, we used to know about people out there. That died really when the tobacco ban came in and clubs shut overnight
“The whole grass-roots of snooker was gone, and the amateur scene has almost disappeared. I used to play in amateur events every week, going round the country.
“When they opened up the pro game to anyone as they did, it killed the amateur game. You are seeing the repercussions of bad, quick knee-jerk decisions.
“The only players for me to pass what I know on to are in China. You spend a month out there, they want to use me.
“They are doing what we used to, there are academies with 20-30 tables with top players getting the best practice. The government subsidise it, and sort the families out.
“They invest in their youngsters with talent, in this country we bale out banks who rip the country off and bring it to its knees.”
This is something Ronnie does on his own initiative, not for money. Are those the words and deeds of a man who loathes his sport? I don’t think so, quite the opposite. But it’s clear that Ronnie doesn’t see a future for snooker right now out of China.
Also before the start of the tournament Rolf Kalb, Mr Snooker in Germany, had posted some fascinating stats on twitter:
Now about the action in Ally Pally yesterday…
Here is the report on Worldsnooker:
Sunday 15 Jan 2017 10:47PM
Ding Junhui won his first match in the Dafabet Masters since 2011 by beating Kyren Wilson 6-3 in the first round on Sunday night.
China’s Ding won this event in 2011, the last time it was staged at Wembley Arena, then endured five consecutive first round defeats after it was moved across North London. But he ended his Alexandra Palace hoodoo with an impressive display against Masters debutant Wilson to book a quarter-final clash with Stuart Bingham or Joe Perry on Friday evening (tickets available – click here for details).
World number six Ding is seeking his third title of the season having won the Six Red World Championship and Shanghai Masters in September.
Victory capped off an eventful day for Ding as, earlier, he did a live television interview for CCTV5 having been one of six nominees for China’s equivalent of Sports Personality of the Year, though he missed out on the award .
The 29-year-old started tonight’s match strongly by surging into a 3-0 lead. In the second frame he was on target for a 147, which would have made him the first player to make two maximums at the Masters, with Kirk Stevens and Marco Fu the only others to hit the magic number at this tournament. But after potting 15 reds with blacks, Ding ran out of position on the yellow on 120 and missed a tough pot to a centre pocket.
Kettering’s Wilson gained a foothold in the match by clearing from the last red to pink to win frame four, and he took a scrappy 39-minute fifth after Ding went in-off playing safety on the green. Ding regained the momentum as runs of 65 and 73 put him 5-2 ahead.
Wilson pulled one back with a 103 and he led 42-0 in frame nine. But Ding went ahead with a break of 50, then secured victory after Wilson had gone in-off when potting the yellow.
“I scored quite heavily today,” said Ding. “I made a few breaks, but obviously missed a 147. It’s a tough game whoever you play in the Masters. I need to take the chances when they come and make good breaks.
“It’s nice, finally to win here at this venue. I always try to win here at the Masters, I tried really hard because I lost five times in a row.
“I have been practising a lot and I can improve my performance. Whoever I play next I will need to improve.”
(bold added by me)
Ding’s 147 attempt and Kyren’s marvellous 106 are the highlight moments of the match for me. I’m sure we will see more of Kyren in the Masters, he did well after a slow start.