Several players have withdrawn from this week’s BetVictor Gibraltar Open, and have been replaced in the draw by the next available players on the Q School 2021 Order of Merit.
Sam Craigie is replaced by Leo Fernandez (Match 59) Alexander Ursenbacher is replaced by Daniel Womersley (Match 35) Simon Lichtenberg is replaced by Luke Pinches (Match 9) Mark Williams is replaced by Joshua Thomond (Match 49) Jamie O’Neill is replaced by Ben Fortey (Match 19) Michael Judge is replaced by Sean Harvey (Match 29)
Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins, Neil Robertson, Kyren Wilson, Mark Allen, Shaun Murphy and defending champion Judd Trump are among the star names competing in the tournament which runs from March 24 to 26 at the Europa Sports Complex.
There might well be even more withdrawals but I’m reasonably confident that Ronnie will be there. The plan is to pay a visit to one of his closest friends, Mike, who lives in Spain and to go to the event with him. They are supposed to travel to Gibraltar tomorrow. Mike, who is about the same age as Ronnie’s father, is a huge snooker fan, a lover of good food and very funny. This is a friendship that dates back to Ronnie’s early years as a player. Mike has been a regular at events and has been Ronnie’s companion at tournaments many times.
I must admit that I wondered a bit as to why the outcome of the Q-Tour play-off event was not taken into account when it comes to who would get an invite to the World Championship qualifiers via the Q-Tour order of merit.
Well … from what transpired on twitter today, it is probably because the entry deadline was today at noon UK time.
Shortly before the said deadline, Hector Nunns shared this on twitter:
Hector’s additional comments strongly suggested that Hendry’s participation in the event was very unlikely. Hector used the word “shock” about this, but frankly, is it really a shock? It certainly isn’t to me. I can see why Hendry wouldn’t want to continue to play and face more poor perfornances and humiliating defeats. We shall see what happens from here but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was really the end of the road for Hendry as a professional.
Top players including Ding Junhui, Stephen Maguire, Ali Carter and Joe Perry will all be competing in the qualifying rounds of the Betfred World Championship, which run from April 4 to 13 at the English Institute of Sport – Sheffield.
In total there will be 128 players in the field for the qualifying rounds of snooker’s biggest event, and only 16 will survive, going through to the Crucible to join the top 16 seeds.
There are still two counting events – the BetVictor Gibraltar Open and Cazoo Tour Championship – before the top 16 seeds are confirmed, but the likes of three-time UK Champion Ding and six-time ranking event winner Maguire are sure to be in the field for the qualifying rounds.
Former champions Graeme Dott and Ken Doherty, all-time legend Jimmy White and Hong Kong’s greatest player Marco Fu will also be in the line up, as well as top women players Reanne Evans, Ng On Yee, Nutcharut Wongharuthai and Rebecca Kenna. The full field, draw and format will be announced once the top 16 seeds are confirmed.
Round one pits players ranked 81 to 112 against those seeded 113 to 144
In round two, those 32 winners will face players ranked 49-80.
In round three, those 32 winners will face players ranked 17-48.
In round four, those 32 winners play each other, with the 16 winners going through to the Crucible.
Session times will be 9.30am, 2.30pm and 7.30pm from April 4 to 11 and then 11am and 5pm for the final round on April 12-13.
No mention of Hendry … Surely they would have mentioned him if he had entered?
The final weekend of the regular WPBSA Q Tour season was to provide no shortage of drama, with places on next season’s main tour, the season-ending playoffs and also next month’s Betfred World Snooker Championship to be determined by the final Q Tour Ranking List following the conclusion of play on Sunday evening.
Reigning Northern Ireland national champion Robbie McGuigan entered the tournament out of range of top spot, but progressed to the final day of a Q Tour event for the first time following victories against Jamie Curtis-Barrett, Wiphu Phuthisabodi and Patrick Whelan on Saturday.
Having reached the semi-finals with a 4-2 victory against Hamim Hussain, the 17-year-old was paired with former professional Simon Bedford, who was the last player standing who could still deny Sean O’Sullivan the auotmatic main tour card available by lifting the title in Leeds.
It was Bedford who dominated the early exchanges as he top scored with breaks of 61 and 55 on his way to establishing a 3-0 lead, before McGuigan reeled off three frames of his own with top breaks of 83 and 55 in barely 40 minutes to draw level.
Both players would have chances in the decider, but a missed brown by Bedford was to prove fatal and McGuigan would ultimately prevail on the final pink to reach the final – a result that would also confirm that Sean O’Sullivan would take the automatic qualification spot available for the World Snooker Tour.
Awaiting McGuigan in the final was Scotland’s Michael Collumb, himself a former national champion back in 2019 and through to the final day having claimed the scalps of Adam Duffy, Harvey Chandler and Ryan Davies to reach the last eight. Breaks of 87 and 70 saw him through to the semi-finals with victory against promising Welsh youngster Liam Davies, before he came through a deciding frame against Alex Clenshaw to qualify for the title match.
It was Collumb who made the stronger start to the final as he limited his opponent to just 24 points during the opening three frames as he raced into a 3-0 lead. The next frame also looked to be heading the way of the Scot as a four frame cushion beckoned at the mid-session interval.
However, a clearance of 31 by McGuigan was to prove a key turning point, as he snatched the frame before the break to get himself on the scoreboard. On the resumption of play it was to be largely one-way traffic, as McGuigan added breaks of 51, 58 and finally a match-clinching 82 in the last to claim the biggest title of his career in Leeds.
The victory sees McGuigan earn the top prize of £2,500 and climb to third position in the final season standings, behind only the top two Si Jiahui and Sean O’Sullivan. With beaten finalist Collumb also finishing inside of the top six in the final rankings, both players will join Sean O’Sullivan, David Lilley and Ben Mertens in earning a spot at next month’s World Championship from the Q Tour.
Both players will also be among 16 players who will contest the Q Tour Playoffs later this year, with a further main tour place to be won.
The WPBSA would like to thank all of the players, officials and in particular the Northern Snooker Centre for their support and hospitality at the event.
Further information with regards to the Q Tour Playoffs will be released as soon as possible.
Si Jiahui has already earned a tour card by winning the WSF championship. Therefore Sean who comes second in the Q-Tour order of merit takes the “automatic” Q-tour tour card.
I’m very happy for Sean who I have known for over 10 years. Sean has not really played to his true potential during his time on the main tour. He was only 17 when he qualified for the main tour in 2012. He probably wasn’t ready.
He requalified for the main tour in 2015, having done very well in the Asian PTCs but didn’t really make any breakthrough on the main tour afterwards.
One event had a strong and very debilitating impact on Sean in 2015: the passing of his best friend Billy O’Connor. Billy had a particularly bright personality and showed extraordinary resilience and courage throughout his illness. He never stopped smiling, he never stopped playing snooker. His death left Sean absolutely devastated and I’m not even sure he’ll eventually completely recover from the loss of his closest friend.
Ryan Thomerson has won the 2022 Asia Pacific Open Snooker Championship following a 6-1 defeat of fellow Australian Justin Sajich in the final at Mounties in New South Wales.
The 27-year-old’s victory in the multi-continental event sees him realise a career ambition as he is set to be offered a maiden professional World Snooker Tour card for the 2022/23 and 2023/24 campaigns.
Organised by the Asia Pacific Snooker & Billiards Federation (APSBF), this new tournament was open to players from both Asia and Oceania. A total of 58 hopefuls travelled to the popular venue in the suburbs of Sydney to contest the title, a $4,000 first prize and the lucrative WST ticket.
Thomerson – who has resided in England over the past few years in order to further his education in sport – began the event as one of the favourites, and he cruised through the initial round robin phase winning all three of his matches without dropping a frame. In the nine frames he played throughout the group, he registered seven half-century breaks and a 112.
As a top seed qualifier, Thomerson avoided the preliminary knockout round and went straight into the last 16 where he crafted runs of 70, 60 and 52 during a 4-0 win over promising teenager Xavier Daw.
The Victorian cueist faced a stern test in the quarter-finals, ousting former main tour exponent Andy Lee (Hong Kong) 4-3 with a top run of 74 in the fifth frame. Thomerson came up against even vaster experience in the semi-finals, defeating former professional and two-time Oceania champion Glen Wilkinson 5-1 – a success highlighted by a break of 121 in the fourth.
Final opponent Sajich is perhaps better known for his pool skills, but the home state competitor showed his prowess on the snooker table with a string of impressive results and performances. He eliminated former Australian national champion James Mifsud and Hong Kong youngster Yu Kiu Chang in reaching the last four where he pipped Adam Waller in a deciding frame, 5-4.
However, Thomerson was not to be denied the biggest moment of his career so far. He claimed the opening three frames of the title match on the colours – the second being on the pink and the third on the black – before a 58 break in the fourth helped him make it 4-0.
Thomerson went into the interval one away from glory at 5-0 up, but on resumption Sajich averted the whitewash by getting on the board with the sixth. This just delayed the outcome, though, as Thomerson claimed a low-scoring seventh frame to lift the trophy.
In the preceding Asia Pacific 6-Red Snooker Championship that took place at the same venue, serial event winner and former professional Steve Mifsud recovered from 2-0 down in the final to overturn India’s Dhvaj Haria 5-3 for the title.
I know nothing about Ryan Thomerson. I just hope that he will ACTUALLY play, unlike Mifsud who won Oceania Snooker Championship twice, in 2014 and 2019 and entered only 2 events during the four years on Tour those wins had earned him. In 2020/21, covid was a factor, maybe, but basically he was a waste of a tour card.
Today is the last day of this season Q-Tour Event 4. At the time of writing the best-of-7 quarter-finals have just started.
Si Jiahui is currently at the top of the Order of Merit. However, because he has already secured a 2 years Tour card starting next season, it will be the scond in this Order of Merit list who will get the first of this season’s Q-Tour tour cards. As it stands, this person is Sean O’Sullivan.
Sean went out early in Event 4 and that means that his tour card is not yet secured. However, only one player still in the draw, Simon Bedford could deny him … just. Indeed Simon needs to win the event to “tie” Sean on points and, should he do so, he would be awarded the coveted tour card. Simom is currently in action against Michael Georgiou.
The players ranked 3 to 18 in the Order of Merit will have the opportunity to play the “play-off” event, carrying a secong Tour card for its winner.
As it stands the list of players who will compete in the play-off event is almost known as all the players still currently competing are already in the top 18 of the Order of Merit.
The 16 are:
Sean O’Sullivan or Simon Bedford
Liam James Davies
The dominant feelings expressed in David’s piece are disappointment and incomprehension. The title it self sets the tone: what was the point indeed?
Stephen Hendry himself said that his goal was to return to the Crucible one last time. One feeling he expressed a couple of times is that, in his last match he didn’t put up a proper fight and this is not the way he wants to remember his last appearance in a place he has dominated for nearly a decade. His last match was indeed a total abdication. I can understand his desire to put things right, but I’m not sure that he approached his comeback the correct way if that was his goal. Ronnie himself recently said that if you don’t play regularly you are left behind… and he was talking about missing a few tournaments, not about going into retirement for several years.
The overall feeling amongst those who commented about this subject on social media in recent days is that Hendry should NOT be offered another invitational tour card because, basically, he hasn’t played enough and has somehow “wasted” the one he got. I can see where these feelings come from. A significant number of persons expressed the opinion that invitational tour cards should not be given at all.
I can also see the reasons why Stephen was reluctant to play despite taking the tour card. When the announcement was made that he was returning to playing professionally it rose a lot of expectations … unrealistic expectations. I remember people still believing that he would wipe the floor with most of the opposition. I wonder where those guys and gals had been to still carry such beliefs. When Hendry retired, in 2012, he wasn’t wiping the floor with anyone, and had not done so for many years. After retiring, he had played on the Seniors tour a bit but had not even reached the final of any event. It is totally understandable that he did not want to disgrace himself and he knew that he was nowhere the required level.
However, there was only one way he could possibly have regained the needed match sharpness and that’s by playing… playing as much as he possibly could.
I would love to hear from Hendry himself about a number of things: why he approached it the way he did, wether he would commit to play more if given the opportunity, and, of course, his views on the last two years and wether he would take a new invitational tour card IF offered it.
And of course, as it stands, there is no certainty that he will play in the World qualifiers this time round. He hasn’t played at all this year so far.
Should Snooker Legend Stephen Hendry Be Offered Another Tour Wildcard?
Even if World Snooker Tour decide this spring to renew the two-year invitational tour wildcard offered to Stephen Hendry back in 2020 by former chairman and now president Barry Hearn…would the record seven-time world champion take it?
As previously noted by The Sportsman, a sensational and unexpected comeback announced in September 2020 after nine years retired from one of the two greatest players ever to pick up a cue has failed thus far to provide the really magical moment of a deep run in a major tournament, or a significant win over one of the current top players.
When the great and the good at WST and players’ and rules body the WPBSA gather to consider making a new offer in the weeks and months to come, they will almost certainly not dwell too long on the results on the table for the 53-year-old Scot over the past two seasons to date.
Hendry’s claims for another card do not rest on the mere three wins to date in 17 months, but on his legendary status as the King of the Crucible, and winner of 75 tournaments in all, including 36 ranking events – this latter tally only recently passed by Ronnie ‘Sullivan, his sole realistic rival as the best ever to play the game.
The two things that may impact on deliberations – and those conversations have already started informally – are the relatively low number of tournaments that the 53-year-old Hendry has entered, and also the likelihood that the current world No101 would definitely take a new card if it was offered.
Discussions have begun about the eventual make-up of the tour for next season, and it is understood that opinion is slightly divided about Hendry on the boards. On balance the excitement generated when he does play should carry the day when final decisions are made at or after the Betfred World Championship qualifiers.
But there is also some disappointment over the number of events he has chosen to enter and play, compared to say Jimmy White and Ken Doherty when they have been beneficiaries of such cards.
In the first season 2020-21 Hendry played in just two events from a possible 11 – his first match back coming at the Gibraltar Masters, and then also playing at the world qualifiers where he beat old foe White. The current season has seen the Scot play more, something he has himself said he needs to improve and achieve the sharpness required to compete after so long out.
With entry deadlines for the Gibraltar Open and World Championship still to come, Hendry entered the British Open, English Open, UK Championship, Scottish Open, German Masters and European Masters – but passed on the early Championship League, the Northern Ireland Open, the Shootout, the inaugural Turkish Masters and a second Home Nations Series event in the Welsh Open.
Various players and pundits have offered their views on the Hendry comeback and what he should or shouldn’t be doing. Hendry has given short shrift to the uber-sceptics, but may have taken more notice of O’Sullivan when he said last year: “He has to write off the first year, when you have time out now you get left behind – even I do, if I miss a few tournaments.”
Four-time world champion John Higgins, who succeeded Hendry as Scotland’s flag-bearer, believes if such a legend wants to continue and have another tour card then that should be his absolute right given such a stellar career – but injected a note of doubt as to whether he would take one this time.
World N6 Higgins, 46, said: “If I was in charge I would certainly still offer him one. There are certain players in the game that just deserve it, and Stephen is definitely one of them.
“It could be though that it is all not quite what Stephen was hoping. Who knows whether he will say something at the end of the season, he might look at it again. It is true that the likes of Jimmy White and Ken Doherty who have been given tour wildcards play in pretty much everything, so they do.
“So they are worth it, I think, the chance of having a wildcard. But then, listen, maybe Stephen has earned that right over the years to now pick and choose with everything he has done in the game, just the number and scale of the achievements.
“I personally think he may make a decision on it all at the end of the season. I just wonder if he is isn’t entering some tournaments now, what would be the point in starting to enter more next season?”
World No39 Michael Holt, another experienced professional and now also a successful coach in Nottingham, believes Hendry’s “snooker royalty” status trumps all other considerations, meaning he should get a new card. However he also hoped Hendry could find a way of playing more.
Holt said: “Stephen is just snooker royalty, like Jimmy, so you’ve got to really – he’s Stephen Hendry! And for me a big thing is I honestly don’t think there are any Zhao Xintongs sitting at home that won’t get on tour because of it. There are plenty of avenues to get on the tour now so it doesn’t do any harm, and if anything creates some interest.
“He hasn’t taken up all his playing opportunities which is a bit disappointing I suppose but ultimately that is up to him, it’s his decision and you can’t force anyone to play. There will always be opinions flying around. But if he does get another one it would be good to see him play a little more to justify it. And like anyone else, he has to be prepared to put the work into to get to a high level again.”
As we know, Hendry hasn’t entered the Gibraltar Open either. I would be surprised though if he was to give the World Championship a miss.
So… should he be offered a new 2 years invitational card? It’s a difficult question indeed.
Why he should ….
He is of course one of the all time greats in the sport we love.
He definitely changed the way snooker is played. His ultra attacking, uncompromising approach inspired the next generation of players, including Ronnie and John Higgins.
The way he played, his swagger and his youthful looks attracted new fans, loads of new fans and most of them supported him throughout his career … still support him. He still puts bums on seats.
On several occasions in the last year, he said thet he’s enjoying the process of trying to come back. It’s work in progress.
Why he shouldn’t …
He hasn’t really played enough. There are probably several veteran players who dream to get the opportunity he was offered and would play in everything. Considering that WST said that there would only be two such invitational wildcards given per season, maybe someone else should be given the chance instead?
The World Seniors Snooker Tour is there for veteran players to play in. Should these invitational cards disappear and should this tour be further developped, broadcasted and promoted instead?
Snooker seems to feed a lot on nostalgia and those wildcards are part of that trend. Is there too much nostalgia? Is it detrimental to the development of the sport? Should there be more focus on young players instead? Is so, how?
In orther news … two Scots have withdrawn from the Gibraltar Open
Stephen Maguire and Anthony McGill have withdrawn from next week’s BetVictor Gibraltar Open, and have been replaced in the draw by Kuldesh Johal and Rod Lawler respectively.
Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Williams, John Higgins, Neil Robertson, Kyren Wilson, Mark Allen, Shaun Murphy and defending champion Judd Trump are among the star names competing in the tournament which runs from March 24 to 26 at the Europa Sports Complex.
‘This is the start of the journey’ – Victoria Shi explains the incredible success of her snooker academy and why there is more to come
Phil Haigh Tuesday 15 Mar 2022
It has been a remarkable, trophy-laden time for the players of Victoria’s Academy, Sheffield and meeting the driving force behind the set-up, it is easy to see why the place has become littered with champions.
The season so far has been an unpredictable one, with tournament winners springing out of nowhere and none has been more surprising than 21-year-old Fan Zhengyi when he exploded out of the woodwork to win the European Masters.
Zhao Xintong, 24, was a more predictable success story, but still, his immense performance to win the UK Championship was a shock, as was his 9-0 demolition of Yan Bingtao to win the German Masters the following month.
Yan himself has not pawed any silverware this season, but the 22-year-old announced himself as one of the game’s elite just last year when he won the Masters in seriously impressive fashion; the Tiger mauling the great John Higgins in a memorable final.
The talented trio are three of the regular faces at Victoria’s Academy, the inconspicuous former office space in Sheffield city centre that is their practice base, but being a part of the academy provides much more than just a handful of tables and a little kitchen.
Victoria Shi runs the academy, but she also runs the careers and even lives of the young men who knock balls around under her watchful eye. Renting their accommodation to them, sorting their travel, hotels, tournament entries and helping them with any number of things that a teenager arriving in the UK from China might need assistance with.
The former journalist is not just there for logistics and arguably her most important role is the players’ chief motivator, source of inspiration and whip cracker when it comes to hard work and their attitude to practice.
‘I always say to them, “You’re lucky being a snooker player.” I think attitude is so important,’ Victoria told Metro.co.uk. ‘They’ve come a long way from China, it’s a different culture. Their life is to be a snooker player and I say, “If you don’t want to be a snooker player, work a night shift somewhere, then you’ll be back.” I always say to them, “With your attitude you will be sacked the next day in a normal job.” But I always make sure they’re happy.
‘Snooker like all sports, results do the talking, that’s my motivation no matter what. To help them to achieve. Even Zhao Xintong and Yan Bingtao, if I don’t see them one day I ask where they’ve been and tell them they need to come back. Sometimes they say they need one day rest after an event because they’re tired and I say okay, but I’ll keep asking where they are.’
Victoria was previously a journalist covering snooker, then managed players, working with a string of top stars, including three years with Ding Junhui, and she has learned plenty about the necessary mindset to succeed on the baize. Something she is always trying to impart on her players.
‘We talk after their matches to discuss the match,’ she explained. ‘If they lose I just say, “Look, know what you’ve done wrong and don’t repeat the same mistake. Work harder on your weakness on the practice table.”
‘I also talk to them during matches. Tell them to be patient. Players after they miss a ball, they think, “I never miss that in training, why did I miss?” But anyone can miss, the most important thing is to move on. Most players have another chance and miss again because they’re thinking about the last one. I say to my players, “I’d rather your head be like wood. Don’t think.” Most snooker players don’t play well because they overthink.
‘You have to work hard. If you don’t work hard then don’t ask for success. I can’t pot one ball, I never play, but I can look after them the best thanks to all my experiences.
‘I worked with Terry Griffiths before, Stephen Hendry, Ronnie [O’Sullivan] always helps me, gives me a lot of advice. That’s the reason, I always tell my players to be patient, control what you can control, don’t bother with your opponent. Every time you lost a match it’s 100 per cent your fault, not the others, because you have chances. I’m always honest to them.’
The relationship is multi-faceted, with Victoria acting as the players’ manager, agent, landlord and, in many ways as a mother figure. Before this chat she scolded the newly crowned European Masters champion for not hanging his coat up on a recently installed hook in the academy. Fan dutifully moved his jacket to the correct place and got back to practicing.
‘Of course [I feel like they’re my children]. If they’re not happy, I know,’ she said. ‘I just ask them, “Are you okay?” Sometimes they’re a little bit shy but I say that I know already. They’re shocked that I know, but I say, “I’m like a shadow.”
‘They tell me everything. If they split up with their girlfriend, they tell me and I say, “Okay, just move on, if you play well you have more choice. Just focus on snooker. Snooker never betrays you. Don’t worry.”
‘They work hard but I sort everything else: book tickets, visas, hotels, cleaner for their house, they just play snooker.
‘Today my job is getting boarding passes, customs, preparing hotel. Normally when they leave to go to the airport I give them all the documents. Lots goes on behind the scenes: doing their entries, booking practice tables, renew their hotel when they win, I do everything.’
The academy has been running for seven years, but things are really starting to pick up now in terms of titles, while other players in the stable such as Zhang Anda, Si Jiahui and England’s Ashley Hugill are seeing performances improve as well.
On her star students, Victoria said: ‘Bingtao has always been a very good player anyway, but Xintong has just become so mature recently.
‘During Covid they couldn’t do much socially anymore so it was just their flat and here for practice every day. I think that made him realise, “What else can I do?” Just play snooker.
‘I think at 24 he thought, “I need to deliver” because everyone talked about how good he is, but I told him he needs to show it on the table. Everyone talked about Xintong but Yan was the one winning, so I said, “Prove to yourself rather than just the talking.”
‘He was inspired by what Yan was doing. We knew he’s capable and he proved it at the UK Championship and I’m so happy for him. He was unplayable and I said to him after the UK, “You need to work even harder, prove to people you’re not a flash in the pan.” Then he won the German because he realised it.
‘After he won the UK people said it might be like winning the lottery, but if he won more then he’d be an established winner. He works even harder now because he enjoyed his success. All the snooker players dream of that since they started and it’s made him work harder and practice harder because he finally tasted success and enjoyed it. When they started playing snooker as children, this is what they wanted and they’ve got it.’
No one was backing the 750/1 shot Fan at the European Masters, but Victoria was not surprised by his amazing run to the title, beating Ronnie O’Sullivan in the final, as she has seen the hours of practice he has been putting in, inspired by his pals’ success.
‘Fan Zhengyi has seen their success and last four or five months he’s been in 8am till 5 or 6pm every day and it’s paid off,’ she said. ‘Work hard, see the success and work even harder. He sees it’s paid off so wants to do more and he’s only 21!
‘Hopefully Zhang Anda is the next one, but Si Jiahui won the WSF Open and will be pro next season, so hopefully he could be the next one as well. Of course, Fan, Yan, Zhao will become established winners because they become more greedy. They all get inspired because they see each other every day, practice together and know that if they can, I can.
‘Zhang Anda, I say to him, “Look everyone’s achieved, you’ve been to the Crucible three times before they even came. You can do it.” Now he says, “I think I can, I’m ready.” I love it, they all inspire each other. I always encourage them, I believe that if you have problems, resolve it.’
One problem for the academy could have been the battering Zhao dished out to Yan in Berlin, crunching his mate 9-0 in the German Masters final, which could have left a frosty atmosphere between the two.
No such thing happened and the pair are still great friends, with Victoria dishing out her typically blunt advice to the wounded Tiger.
‘I told him: “You can’t get any more humiliated, so now just move on. Next time you can have no fear of playing anyone because what’s worse? You’ve done the worst. Just move on rather than thinking about it.”’
It has been an immense year or so for the talented lads of Victoria’s Academy, but it seems that this is no phase, with the boss insistent that they will be bringing more and more silverware back to South Yorkshire. Possibly they may not even have to leave the county to pick it up.
‘I say to them now, “Forget about what’s happened, focus on the next one.” I want them to win more, hopefully win the Worlds. Play one frame at a time and dream big, work hard. I say to the others, “If they can, you can.”
‘We trust each other and they know I will help them no matter what, we’re all going in the same direction.
‘We want to win more. This is just the start of the journey. That’s what Ronnie said to Zhao Xintong after he won the UK Championship, your snooker career is only starting now. Fan is only 21, we’ll make sure he wins more, work even harder, he knows that one is not enough.’
It’s tough to doubt that there will be more glory to come, with Victoria’s recipe for success in Sheffield proving to be irresistible.
I traveled to Chima with my camera in 2012. I went to the Shanghai Masters and to an APTC in Yixing. There were lots of young Chinese players competing in that event. Amongst them, Lyu Haotian. Back then, he was seen as the most promising prospect in his generation. He was only 14, and tiny. He was getting the best possible help but he was also put under huge pressure. Every match he played was taped on video, analysed, debriefed. He was still a child but this wasn’t childhood. A few weeks later he reached the QFs at the International Championship. He qualified for the main Tour by winning the under-21 IBSF World Championship in July 2013.
I remember him arriving on the main tour at the start of the next season, all smiles, wearing bright colours… but it went all wrong. After some success in his first year, his game deteriorated, his confidence looked shattered. He later revealed that he felt lonely, disoriented, and never learned English properly. The place were he lived was arsoned, he could very easily have died there. He was beaten up in the streets of Sheffield. I suspect that he was hanging around in the wrong places with the wrong people. When he arrived to play his first match at the World Chapionship qualifiers in 2015, I saw him come out of the car and though that he might be drunk. He was a shadow of the bright boy I had seen in Yixing.
He was relegated, returned to China and didn’t want to play snooker anymore for a long time.
Now, at 24, he’s back on the main tour, but the spark is gone. He will probably never fulfill his potential.
Why am I telling this story? Because it illustrates how important the work Victoria puts into her academy is: she is the anchor of so many young lads, she offers much more than a practice place. I can’t help thinking that Lyu’s life would have been very different, much happier, safer and more successful if such place had been available to him ten years ago, if someone had looked after him like Victoria looks after her players. She is a snooker manager, but she is much more than that. She cares about her players, as human beings. She wants them to develop in every aspect, not just at the table, and that’s the key of her, and their, successes.