Willo playing for fun in his 30th season

Mark Williams will play today in the very first match of the season. He has been interviewed by WST:

Enjoyment The Key For Evergreen Williams

Mark Williams insists he will continue to take a carefree attitude into tournaments in the coming season and to focus on enjoyment of the game rather than results.

Williams is going into his 30th professional season

The three-time World Champion has played with a fast and fluid style in recent years, with an average shot time often as low as 15 seconds. And that paid dividends last season as he won the WST Pro Series and reached the semi-finals of two other events, as well as the quarter-finals at the Crucible.

At the age of 46, the Welshman intends to squeeze as much fun as he can out of the rest of his career. “I played as fast as I can last season and loved every minute of it,” said Williams. “I lost a lot of matches I should have won, but also played some good stuff. I looked dangerous for the first time in a while. Maybe that’s because I got on with it. Obviously I want to win, but if I don’t, no problem.

I won’t practise much this season, maybe a couple of hours every day or every other day. That might affect my form, but I have accepted that. It’s enough to keep me in half decent condition. I’m enjoying it, and that’s my aim, rather than to get bogged down. I can have a best-of-19 in the club with Jackson (Page) in less than two hours because we are both pretty quick.

My only target now is to see how long I can stay on the tour for. I would like to see where I am when I’m 50 – whether I’m still in the top 16. I want to see how long I can stay on the tour on merit.

Williams plays on the opening day of the new season on Sunday at the BetVictor Championship League – for the match schedule click here and for details of how to watch, click here.

Déjà-vu feeling? Well, yes. When you go into your 30th year as a professional, when you have been playing seriously since you were a kid and won everything there is to win, how do you keep going? By finding ways to continue to enjoy it.

This is not very different to what Ronnie has been saying in recent years and it’s not surprising as they have started playing at the same time, turned pro at the same time and are both still in the top 16. This approach will probably not yield many titles; we should accept that and be grateful because it will keep them playing and wanting to play.

Judd Trump about playing Ronnie

With the imminent return of competitive professional snooker this was to be expected: Phil Haigh is at it again and has been speaking with Judd Trump … about what it’s like playing Ronnie.

Judd Trump relishes the Ronnie O’Sullivan ‘argy-bargy and mind games’

GettyImages-Judd-Ronnie-Handshake
Judd Trump and Ronnie O’Sullivan have had some memorable matches in recent years (Picture: Getty Images)

Judd Trump says playing Ronnie O’Sullivan is ‘not like a game of snooker’ but he relishes the challenge of the ‘argy-bargy and mind games’ that come with taking on the Rocket.

The world number one has an excellent record against the six-time world champion, winning his last three matches against O’Sullivan to give him a winning record in the head-to-head.

Trump has won five of his last six meeting with the Rocket, including the Masters final and three finals of the Northern Ireland Open, and says facing O’Sullivan in showpiece matches, in front of rowdy crowds is ideal for him.

Facing the sport’s most popular figure in front of a full house would be intimidating for many, but Trump loves the challenge, which is unlike anything else in the sport.

‘Whenever there is a crowd in town – it hasn’t been the same for the last 18 months – you want to play Ronnie because the atmosphere is different class and everyone gets behind him,’ Trump told Sporting Life.

‘For me, that spurs me on to go out there and shine and take away his fans. I know it’s going to be a bigger audience when Ronnie’s around, so for me it’s an extra chance to show what I can do.

Betfred World Snooker Championship - Day Ten
Trump had great results behind closed doors but is excited by the return of crowds (Picture: Getty Images)

‘It’s completely different to playing anyone else. If you’re playing any other player, you just play your own game, but when you’re playing him, it’s like you’re playing in his show.

‘He really feels like he owns the table and it can be quite difficult to play against. His mannerisms and everything, he’s quite in your face; it’s not like a game of snooker, there’s a bit of argy-bargy and mind games going on at the same time. It’s a massive match-up.’

Judd and Ronnie have met just once on the biggest stage in the game, with O’Sullivan winning 17-11 in the semi-finals of the 2013 World Championship.

Trump has gone on to great success since then though, winning the world title in 2019, and fans would love to see the two biggest draws in the game currently clash once again at the Crucible.

Both Trump and O’Sullivan are entered into the Championship League, starting on Sunday, with the world number one not playing till 6 August in Group One, while the Rocket is in action on 20 July in Group 32.

Participation is not confirmed yet, but both are expected to be playing in the British Open in August and could face each other at any stage with a random draw being made at the end of each round.

There will be no seedings in the tournament that boasts a top prize of £100,000 so top players can meet at any stage at the Morningside Arena in Leicester.

Shown live on ITV, the event runs from 16-22 August

This is an interesting interview because Judd’s perception is quite astonishing, Well, it is to me at least.

I’m not sure how Judd Trump perceives his own game, but in my eyes, there is no player currently on the tour who is more “in your face” than himself.

Also the bit about “taking away his fans” is a bit baffling to me: I’m not sure that many Ronnie fans in the audience warm to Judd when he is in the process of beating their favourite player, no matter how well Judd might be playing. Quite the opposite in fact. It was the same with the Hendry fans back in the days: the vast majority would stay with their man no matter what.

Also, it’s not about being a fanboy, or a fangirl: a lot of true snooker fans appreciate certain players more than others because they are attracted by the way they play.

Ronnie’s game is daring, but it’s also and mainly about cue ball control, putting the white exactly where he wants it, making it all look simple, easy, natural. That’s what I like most about his game, and that’s why I’m a Ding fan as well and still hoping that he gets back in the winning circle soon.

Judd’s game is a lot about showing off: his abilty is quite extraordinary. It’s impressive, spectacular, no question. I do understand why people would be “fans” of that sort of game and Judd is the best exponent of it currently.  Alex Higgins was like that too (*). But it’s not my thing and I’m not alone in this.

John Higgins is a great, great player, I know that, I understand what he does … but he bores me to death. Don’t ask.

(*) Judd is a much better and more complete player than Alex IMO

WST talks to Joe Perry

Joe Perry was born in 1974, one year before the “Class of 92” trio and started playing as a pro in 1992 just like them. He doesn’t have their record, but he has been, and still is, a very, very solid player, well respected by his peers. He has been ranked as high as 8th in the World, and, at 46, he is still ranked 20th.

Joe was interviewed by WST ahead of this season

Here it is

Perry Refreshed For New Season

World number 20 Joe Perry believes the starkness of the sporting reality throughout the coronavirus pandemic has acted as a catalyst for him to inject new enthusiasm into his preparation for tournaments this season.

The Cambridge cueman struggled to produce his best snooker during the 2020/21 campaign, registering just one quarter-final appearance, which came at the UK Championship.

Having toiled under behind closed doors conditions, 46-year-old Perry hopes that the light at the end of the tunnel in terms of the return of spectators can inspire him to up his standards.

With the new season just weeks away, we’ve spoken to Perry about how he coped last season, his thoughts on the year ahead and how he found working as a commentator at the World Championship…

Joe, how are you feeling about the new season and how much are you looking forward to potentially returning to a more normal circuit?

“Last year gave me an opportunity to think about what I want to do. I decided that I want to really get my head down, stay up the top for a bit longer and aim to win another trophy. Everyone has been forced into different sorts of situations over the last year. I was very lucky to have a table at home, so I could play when I wanted to. Ultimately I didn’t really utilise it. That made me look at things with a bigger perspective and I made a conscious decision to make more of an effort this season. I’ve realised that playing every other day for a couple of hours isn’t going to cut it. That may have been good enough several years ago, but it isn’t anymore. I’m looking forward to the season, getting back in the club and I’ve already had some games with other players. You need to be ready, because the standard is too high.”

Who have you been practising with so far this summer?

“I’ve had a couple of games with Peter Devlin, he is keen and happy to come to the club and play. I’ve got games lined up with Sean Maddocks and young Jamie Wilson as well. All of these people were contacting me for games last year and I just wasn’t really interested. I would come up with excuses and put them off. I’ve accepted the offers this time. I’m hoping to keep busy this year and see what happens. It doesn’t give you a God given right to win matches but it will give me a chance.

“I’ve really enjoyed playing with the younger guys. I know how tough it is when you are starting out to get games with the higher ranked players. Some of them can be pretty elusive and hard to get hold of, so I try to make myself available. Hopefully it can help them to progress and come through. I’ve never been very high on confidence as a player. When I play these young players, they are full of life and full of confidence. That helps me. It also reaffirms that I can play the game, because ultimately I do normally win these practice matches. It shows to me that I do have a future in the sport.”

Your only victory on the tour so far came in Thailand at the 2015 Players Championship. How much would it mean to you to win one on home soil and be able to share it with friends and family?

“That is the main thing that is keeping me going, my biggest motivation. Don’t get me wrong, I’d jump at the chance to win something overseas, but to do it at home and be able to share that with friends and family is a big motivation of mine. I do believe that I have that win in me. Whether it comes or not, I don’t know. There are 128 of us starting out the season all believing we can go out and win one. Things have to go your way on a given week. There is no reason if those things come together that I can’t do it. I just have to be on my guard at all times because it is so tough.”

What did you miss most last season from the normal snooker environment?

“One of the things I really did miss last season was not being able to go out and watch the matches in the arena. I’ve never been one for sitting around in my hotel room and watching box sets. Going out into the arena helps me to get a feel for things. I like to be in and around the player’s lounge, chatting to people and watching the snooker. I really missed that and found killing time in between matches really difficult last year.

“I think I get more benefit from watching a match in the arena for an hour, than I do having an hour on the practice table. Practising for an hour isn’t going to give me a better chance of winning a tournament, but if I stay engaged with the whole thing and concentrate on snooker stuff, I feel I’m better prepared for my next match. I turned up for so many matches last year feeling like I was about to go for a best of seven down at the club. Because the standard is so ridiculously high these days, you can’t afford to have that attitude. You need to be switched on at all times. I did lose a lot of matches last year which I was quite a heavy favourite to win. My normal preparation just wasn’t available to me and I found myself going into games very cold.”

You commentated for the BBC at the World Championship for the second year in a row. How did you find the experience and do you see TV work as the path you would like to go down when you hang up your cue?

“It was great, as I’ve already said, I’ve really missed not watching snooker. Being in the commentary box gave me an opportunity to watch snooker. I feel like I know the game pretty well and I’ve bridged eras in snooker. The game was very different when I started out and I watched a lot of that. I’ve now seen it progress to the modern style of snooker. I feel like I’ve got something to give with it and I enjoy it and like passing on my knowledge. I get a bit of a buzz out of watching the play and I have no favourites when I’m watching so I’m pretty impartial.

“You just say it as you see it and if it comes across well, then all good. You do learn though and get more comfortable with what you are doing. In the early days I was never sure if I was saying too much or not enough. Working with people like John Virgo this year was an eye opener.  It is great to be up close to these people. They are there for a reason, because they are so good at it. Virgo is a legend in the commentary box and I feel like I learned a lot working with him.

“It is something I’ve been thinking about a lot, with my results dipping in the last couple of years. I’m not silly, I know it is going to come to an end one day. There are players I grew up with who have been hanging on to their tour card. I’m not doing that. I’ll put it on record now and say that once I drop off the tour, I won’t be going to Q School. That will be me done. I’ve played snooker all of my life and I don’t really have that passion for anything else. So ultimately if the opportunity was available to go down the punditry and commentary route I’d go for it. That would be my dream really, if I could nail that down I’d jump at it.”

Joe has only won one ranking title, the 2015 Players Championship, when that tournament was the “conclusion” of the PTC/ATC season and the reward for the 32 “best” in that series of events. Joe had been the player who had dominated the Asian Tour Championship that season, earning 12000 points on that tour; only Stuart Bingham (10600) and Ding Junhui (11500) had come close. A lot of UK/European players had given the ATC a miss, but not Joe. He loves playing, always has and he would take every opportuniry offered to him.

In the above interview, Joe explains that he loves practicing with younger players and why. This interest, and care, for the younger players is nothing new. Joe has always been like that. When Neil Robertson arrived in the UK, a penniless teenager, Joe helped him massively. Neil has got a much better career than Joe, but he wouldn’t be where he is today without Joe’s help. It’s well worth reading this piece by Nigel Slater. As he was potting the last balls to win the 2014 Wuxi Classic, Neil had tears in his eyes. He would never lose on purpose but he would have been happier if it was Joe clearing the table that time.

Also, Joe mentions that he likes to sit in the arena and watch. Indeed I have spotted him doing that countless times when I was around the tour. Mark Williams is another one who does it too. Snooker is in his blood. Joe says that he won’t go to Q-School if he was to drop off the tour. Maybe… He certainly will not want to embarrass himself, but I’m not so sure that he will be able to stay away for good. Seniors Tour maybe?

 

 

Anthony Hamilton and the Art of Reinvention

After rookie Dean Young, it’s veteran Anthony Hamilton’s turn to get interviewed by WST.

Reinvention Refuelling The Sheriff

Former German Masters champion Anthony Hamilton says that constant reinvention has been crucial for prolonging his time on the tour and maintaining his standards.

The 50-year-old admits he is in the twilight period of his career, having suffered from eye and back problems in recent years.

Hamilton enjoyed a career highlight victory at the 2017 German Masters, defeating Ali Carter 9-6 in the final to pick up a maiden ranking crown after 26 years as a professional.

In the years that followed, world number 54 Hamilton has only reached a further two ranking event semi-finals. However, the Sheriff of Pottingham is now preparing for his 31st season on the circuit and takes satisfaction in the longevity that represents.

Hamilton said: “I think the longevity is something to be proud of. At least it shows you can stay the course. You need to get out of bed every day and go again, which of course everyone needs to do in real life. To spend 31 years doing the same thing, you do have to reinvent yourself quite often. You need to try to find new goals and new styles of thinking to keep things fresh. Snooker doesn’t change. You may change as a person, but snooker remains exactly the same as when you were a 16-year-old. Once you start playing, you turn into a medieval man and start competing with others again. To me the competition is the best part of it.

“The adrenaline rush of going to a match and preparing for a match still gives me a buzz. I am quite a finicky guy, so it takes a couple of hours preparing for a game and doing very precise things. It all builds up and is a routine I have from over the years. I like that. It takes up your soul and all of your thinking. Then you go and play like an idiot and get back to improve in the next one! Hopefully you get your day in the sun. Fortunately, I’ve had a couple of days where I’ve experienced the starry bit at the end of it. That is really fun, but I even enjoy qualifiers and trying to beat the youngsters.

“The reinvention is mostly thinking and mostly mental. You also can’t keep doing the same thing if it isn’t working, as that is madness. If you are playing at a certain speed or being too defensive or too attacking, you just have to see what works. Nothing works forever in snooker, unfortunately everything has a shelf life. The brain works out that you are hoodwinking it and it gets bored. That is just how it is. You can change your thought pattern, but you always have to be humble and know the game will always win. You just have to do as well as you can.”

Having spent a large part of his career chasing a maiden ranking title, Hamilton believes that he could have been more malleable with his mindset during his younger years. With his playing career heading towards its latter stages, Hamilton is starting to look towards a potential move into coaching and hopes that his experiences, both positive and negative, can help budding professionals.

“I don’t think I did enough reinvention when I was younger. You get stuck in a rut thinking you are doing the right thing, but the results should tell you that. If the results are great, just keep on doing it. When the results weren’t going my way, I should have changed my mindset a little bit more. When you are younger there are more things going on, life gets in the way and you just can’t be bothered going that deep into it. You also think you are invincible when you are younger. When you are older you realise you need to put more into it. That is what coaches are for, trying to pass more advice on. Hopefully when I get into coaching I can pass my advice and my experiences on. I think by doing that, it can cut down the learning process. It took me 30 years to figure things out, hopefully I can cut that down to three or four months with another player.

“I’m interested in all walks of coaching and all standards, but especially young professionals finding their feet. I think it is helpful for young players to listen to people who have done it, good and bad, but especially bad. They learn more off that. Most of my coaching will be based off what I should have done rather than what I did. You learn more if you are struggling then when you are doing well. Hopefully I can impart some of that knowledge.”

Despite being one of the sport’s most respected figures, Nottingham’s Hamilton is typically modest about his achievements in snooker, a trait which contributes towards his popularity on the circuit and among fans. The former world number ten does believe that he has underachieved, but Hamilton carries no regrets and is determined to make the most of his remaining days on the tour.

“I’m not particularly proud of my career. I did alright. I lived too much of a lifestyle in my 20s and 30s. I’m not bothered about that, because I had a good time. Winning a tournament was the icing on the cake for me. Playing tough matches, losing tough matches, winning tough matches and getting out of bed for something I wanted to do was a blessing. Most people live doing something they don’t want to do. I’ve been very lucky in that regard.

“I’ll lose a little bit of focus and direction in my life when I retire, until I find something else to do. Sportspeople are a little bit wacky, as we need all of these things in place to get through the day and a tournament. I’ll miss that, but I’ll replace it with other things, whether that be coaching or commentary. Hopefully I’ll change my lifestyle and be more relaxed, because as a professional snooker is always in the back of your mind. It will be nice to shut those voices down and chill out.”

As you would expect with Anthony, it’s a quite interesting interview. Anthony is intelligent, modest, unconventional and blessed with a wicked sense of humour. He’s also his own man and a very, very fine player. It’s hard to understand how he hasn’t won more: only he will know… maybe. If he takes on coaching, those who are willing to listen will learn a lot, mainly about the mental and tactical sides of the game.

This may be his last season. He’s provisionally 75th on the end-of-season ranking list. He needs to catch up about 10000 to get in the top 64, which of course earning a lot more.

 

 

 

WST spoke with Dean Young, the only rookie to emerge form the latest Q-School

Dean Young is the only rookie who qualified through the Q-School for the season main tour.

WST has spoken to him and he’s showing maturity beyond his years 

Young Gunning For Glory

Young after winning a Challenge Tour event in Belgium in 2019.

Scotland’s Dean Young believes his stoic temperament will stand him in good stead when he makes his professional debut on the World Snooker Tour in the upcoming season.

Young clinched a two-year tour card and a maiden spell as a professional by coming through the recent Q School event in Sheffield. The Edinburgh potter was the only rookie to emerge from the brutal three-event process.

The 19-year-old has already tasted success on the circuit, having beaten David Grace and Liam Highfield to reach the last 32 of the 2020 Shoot Out. Now he is aiming for a steady first two years on the tour to solidify his status as a professional.

We spoke to Young to find out how he originally got into the sport and hear about his greatest strengths…

Dean, congratulations on your performance at Q School. First of all, how did you originally get into snooker?

“Before I first played, I had seen snooker a few times on television and I would always ask my dad about where you can go to actually do it. He thought I was too small at that point to go to the snooker hall, as I was only four or five, so he bought me a six-foot table for the living room. It all stemmed from there.

“When I was about seven my dad took me down to our local club on a rainy day and I loved it. I was just hooked from then. My dad taught me the basics like my bridging hand and things and he then got me lessons with former professional Chris Small up until around the age of 16. That helped me develop a lot.”

How big has the influence of your dad been on the whole for your career?

“Well he is a decent player himself, with a highest break of 89. He only ever played in the local leagues and things though. He would drive me all over Scotland to the different events that I played in. That would be especially difficult if I got to a final, which was normally played on a Wednesday night in Glasgow. He’s a bricklayer, so he would be back home from work, get changed and drive me over there from Edinburgh. He has been a big inspiration to me, if it wasn’t for him then none of this could have happened.”

How proud are you to be the only rookie to come through Q School?

“The field this year was so strong. When you see players like Michael White and James Cahill not getting on, it just shows you how hard it was. I played in the event for two years before this and on both occasions I did get to the last day. I’d been playing well, so I felt that if I could keep that up then I did have every chance of getting through. The feeling when I got over the line in that last match was unbelievable.”

You’ve been regularly practising with world number 34 Scott Donaldson in recent years, how much has that helped to bring on your game?

“Playing with him day in and day out has brought my game on leaps and bounds. He practised with me quite a lot before this. The advice he gave me was just to keep my head down and play my shots. He said that I was good enough to get through and that gave me a lot of confidence. He’s seen me develop over the last few years and for someone like him to say I am good enough really helped me a lot. Before Q School I was starting to get the better of him in the odd game. He hammered me for years, but I’d say recently we’ve been about even. You have to face better players to be able to improve.”

What in particular has playing against Scott helped you most with?

“Probably my temperament, which used to be really bad. He is so calm in everything he does. My temperament is one of the best bits of my game now. I actually did snap a cue years ago when I was about 12! I wouldn’t even bang the table or do anything like that now. I’ve totally changed and probably matured more than anything. If you get angry, then your opponent just feeds off it.”

What are your ambitions for the next two years?

“It is really had to stay on the tour in your first two years as a professional. That is my goal, but if I don’t I will go back to Q School. If I can stay on it would be great though.”

When I read rookies interviews, I often have the feeling that they are deluded about where their game stands and what it takes to fight on the pro tour. Not here. Dean seems to know exactly what’s ahead of him and that is why I believe that he has a real chance to get to the top 64 within the next two seasons.

Dean will probably benefit from the support of (most of) the other Scottish players. They tend to support each others, and to support their young prospects in particular. They love their snooker and they love their country. I remember John Higgins admitting that he had struggled to concentrate on his own first round match at the 2017 UK championship because “wee Scott” (Donaldson) was on his way to beat Mark Selby on an adjacent table. John has also gone out of his way to help younger Scots when travels proved difficult, ferrying them around in his own car. Anthony McGill has been  seriously involved in promoting snooker for disandvantaged and disabled kids. The covid-19 crisis has probably brought that to a halt for now unfortunately.

I’m sure that Dean will not be left struggling on his own devices.  Good luck Dean!

Wayne Griffith about snooker in Hong Kong and On Yee Ng in particular

On Yee Ng will be playing on the main tour this season. Wayne Griffith, the HKSI – Hong Kong Snooker Institute – Head Coach has been woorking with her for years and has been speaking to World Women Snooker, about women snooker and On Yee in particular.

On Yee is a very hard worker and she will give it 100% in the coming two years. She is determined to learn as much as she can from the experience. She is tactically sound. If anything she might not score as heavily as she would need to by professional standards just yet. But she will improve.

Good luck On Yee!

This was shared by WWS:

Griffiths Reflects on Decade of Success in Hong Kong

In recent years, the World Women’s Snooker Tour has become one of the most cosmopolitan series of events in our sport with players from across the globe regularly competing in our tournaments.

One region in particular that has played a significant role in the internationalisation of the tour has been Hong Kong, with several players based at its Sports Institute (HKSI) including our three-time world champion Ng On Yee having competed in tournaments over the past decade.

A driving force behind providing opportunities for female players in Hong Kong has been Wayne Griffiths – son of former world champion Terry Griffiths and qualified WPBSA Snooker Coach – who this September will celebrate his tenth anniversary since becoming HKSI Head Coach.

Laying the Foundations

Together with his team, including Alan Wong and David Roe who will be familiar to all on the women’s circuit, Griffiths has helped shape the infrastructure that has enabled players at the HKSI to achieve their potential during the past decade.

“I joined HKSI as Head Coach just before the 2010 Asian Games,” said Griffiths. “Billiard Sports joined HKSI in 2009 when the sport scored enough points to be considered for elite funding as a Tier A sport. This allowed an enhanced budget, a training grant for each player, travel expenses and a Head Coach. Unfortunately for them – that Head Coach turned out to be me!

“I wanted to employ a coach to work with me and I had known Alan Wong from a previous WPBSA coaching course. I knew he was native to Hong Kong and was well respected and liked as a junior coach. I felt Alan’s experience, coupled with his cultural knowledge and language skills made him a perfect addition for the team. Luckily for me, and for everyone else, he decided to take up our offer and join us in April 2011. We have been the core of the coaching team ever since and I couldn’t do without him!

“Michele Nip joined us as a full-time pool coach in 2016 (she had been part-time since 2012) and David Roe joined in the summer of the same year. Michele had brought up the junior pool team from a very young age and has developed them into Asian and World junior champions. David Roe, as a former top 16 professional player, was brought into to give us some high level ‘playing’ and international coaching experience, which I felt brought a good balance to the team overall. Both Michele and David have contributed massively to our achievements here in recent years.

“We also get around three visits per year from Lee Walker and Kelly Fisher as we seek to give the players as many different opportunities to grow and learn from the best. Their experience and input have also proved to be invaluable for us.”

World Women’s Snooker

Jaique Ip Wan In would be the first player from Hong Kong to compete on the World Women’s Snooker Tour, reaching the quarter-finals of the World Championship in both 2008 and 2009. In 2012 she became the first player from Hong Kong to win a ranking event at the Agnes Davies Memorial, defeating compatriot So Man Yan in the final.

At this time the Tour was based exclusively within the UK prior to becoming a subsidiary organisation of the WPBSA in 2015, providing an additional logistical challenge for Jaique and the other players who would join her in subsequent years.

“HKSI started with just four women players (the ‘golden girls’ as I believe they were known) of Ng On Yee, Ip Wan In Jaique, So Man Yan and Yu Ching Ching in 2010,” said Griffiths. “Three of these ladies were gold medal winners at the 2010 Asian Games.

“These four ladies were very keen to travel to international events to test themselves against the best players in the world. To do this we knew we had to come to the UK and enter WWS events.

“Obviously, the travel was an issue for us. It is generally 24 hours door to door for a UK trip from Hong Kong and a 7-8 hour time difference to get over. Fortunately for us however, we were well funded and supported by the HKBSCC, HKSI and the HKSAR Government. This allowed us to travel a few days early to get over the long trip and get some practice at the venue. We learned a lot of lessons along the way and this meant we felt we were getting stronger, on and off the table, with every trip we made.

“Even though we did not manage a win over Reanne Evans early on, we did start to score some positive results against other top players. This gave us all some encouragement and showed that we were moving in the right direction.

“However, Reanne was still the ‘Queen’ and Maria Catalano and Emma Bonney were the other business end players who always were tough to beat. It was around this time we felt things were becoming a little comfortable for the four ladies and we went in search of a ‘Sigmoid Leap’!

“To intensify competition, in 2013 we added another player, Wan Ka Kai, who was selected through a local TID event and went on to be Hong Kong’s second highest WWS ranked player not long after. Since then we have followed this strategy of increasing the members of the team to keep levels of motivation high.”

‘Respect but no fear’

Of course while many players from Hong Kong have gone on to establish themselves on the circuit, the most successful player to date has been our current world number two Ng On Yee, who famously ended the 10-year reign of Reanne Evans at the World Championship in 2015, going on to win the biggest tournament on the calendar three times over a four-year period from 2015-2018 and becoming world number one.

Her WWS debut came four years prior to her first world title when as a 20-year-old she crossed cues with Evans for the first time, losing 4-1 in a match that would launch a healthy rivalry that continues to this day.

“I think this was my first major overseas event with the ladies and I remember it quite vividly,” recalled Griffiths. “Regarding On Yee specifically, she was still developing on the table at that time. However, what encouraged me about her at that event was her attitude. Two things I remember in particular.

“The first was a round robin match against Revanna Umadevi from India. On Yee looked like losing the match at 1-1 and 45+ behind with three reds left. She then fluked a red and cleared with a 50 break to win on the black. This was not a massive break or a critical victory maybe, but it did show me a little about the mental make up of this young player.

“The second thing I remember was the knockout match with Reanne. On Yee did well but was still roundly beaten. However, it was On Yee’s positive attitude before, during and after the match that told me that here we had someone who mentally could mix it with the best.

“There was respect but no fear and a dogged determination to beat Reanne in the future – who at that time was pretty much seen as unbeatable. We set about breaking down what was needed to close the gap and On Yee worked diligently to achieve this. We knew there was some way to go, but that first event showed me that Hong Kong had a special player with the attitude and belief of a champion.”

Ng claimed her first WWS title at the 2012 Northern Championship, before defeating Evans for the first time on her way to winning the 2013 UK Championship. Two years later she would deliver her biggest performance to date as she defeated Evans in the semi-finals of the World Championship in Leeds, before claiming the trophy with a 6-2 success against Emma Bonney in the final.

“During the 2015 World Championship I was actually working down the road with Marco Fu in Sheffield and it was Alan Wong who guided On Yee to what was her biggest win to date. It was a great achievement. To end the reign of a dominant world champion is never easy and we all know what a great competitor Reanne is.

“This victory made sure that On Yee would be seen as one of the top female players in the world. The win made a lot of noise back in Hong Kong and was a massive boost for the sport – and for On Yee personally. In 2016 she received the coveted ‘Best of the Best’ sports award for Hong Kong for her results in 2015 and this launched her as a well-known personality in the region. For a female snooker player to win this award it was a significant step in the sport’s history in Hong Kong.

“We are all so happy to see a player with a great attitude and work ethic, who has listened and acted on the advice she has been given (rather than paying it lip service) to make the most of her talent. On Yee works hard and, maybe more importantly, she works smart. It is not an accident that the best players will be the players who are striving to improve and are never satisfied.

“This desire to get better however, has to be balanced for it not to become negative. On Yee has got this balance just about right now and it has been an honour and a pleasure for us all to be part of her journey to date.”

‘A Journey not a destination’

Since becoming world champion Ng has increasingly had the opportunity to compete against the world’s best male players at events including Q School, Challenge Tour and the 6-Red World Championship in Thailand.

“On Yee has improved considerably in the last 2 – 3 years and her game is getting closer to the men’s level – as the performance against Alan McManus in the 2019 World Championship showed,” said Griffiths. “However, she is a realist and she knows she has some way to go to consistently be at the level she needs to qualify for the men’s game through Q School or other accepted avenues.

“Our feeling has always been that if On Yee is always striving to improve enough to reach the men’s top tier, then we can be sure she will still be at or very near the top of the women’s game. This approach has worked relatively well to date.

“We are always looking for our own marginal gains as we strive to improve all our players in Hong Kong. We collect a lot of data here at HKSI in terms of skills benchmarking and matchplay ability. This factual and measurable data gives us a very good idea of where our players are in terms of reaching the next level. Through gap analysis, we then set about trying to formulate plans that will hopefully see the player improve in the key areas highlighted.

“We see this as a journey and not a destination, and the best On Yee can hope for is that she realises her full potential. If this means she is one of the first female players to play by right on the main tour, it would be an achievement she, and everyone here at the HKSI and the HKBSCC, would be very proud of. In the meantime, however, to quote our mantra here, she will focus on trying ‘to be a better player tomorrow’.

As Ng has continued to achieve success on the women’s circuit, she has been joined by further players from Hong Kong with seven currently ranked inside of the top 30. For each WWS events the HKSI runs an internal selection policy which as Griffiths explains, helps to create pressure situations to test the players.

“We are fortunate enough to have a strong squad of female players here in Hong Kong and they all get excellent support from HKBSCC, HKSI and the Hong Kong Government,” continues Griffiths. “We have no other player quite at On Yee’s level yet, but her ability and achievements are certainly inspiring them all to keep working hard to improve. So Man Yan, Ip Wan In Jaique, Ho Yee Ki, Fong Mei Mei, Cheung Yee Ting and Chu Pui Ying are all very good female players in their own right, and every one of them has supported HKSI with top results in recent years.”

The last decade has not only been significant for players based at the HKSI, but the circuit as a whole which has become more international since coming under the remit of the WPBSA in 2015. New events in mainland Europe, Asia and Oceania have led to the promotion of new talent and new opportunities for players globally, something that Griffiths is supportive of.

“The work done by the WWS team means that the Ladies’ game is now unrecognisable compared to where it was when I first attended in 2011,” explained Griffiths. “The depth and breadth of standard has improved significantly, numbers have increased (competitors and countries) and the events are now run, reported and marketed in a more professional manner.

“The women’s game now has far more respect and a lot more interest around the world. In terms of getting results however, it is has become a lot harder in recent years. Great players from the UK, mainland Europe, and especially now from China (Bai Yulu) and Thailand (Nutcharut Wongharuthai et al) have pushed the standards higher and higher.

“All these things come together to point to a very bright future for the women’s game, and all of us in Hong Kong look forward to be a part of it for many years to come!”

We would like to thank Wayne for his time and we look forward to seeing his team and all of the players from the HKSI again at upcoming tournaments.

Phil Haigh has spoken to Peter Lines about aura and Ronnie.

Peter Lines has spoken with Phil Haigh about Ronnie, players, aura and how snooker has changed since his debut:

Ronnie O’Sullivan is ‘absolutely frightening’ but Steve Davis had the biggest aura, says Peter Lines

Ronnie head shot - World2020Ronnie O’Sullivan’s talent is ‘absolutely frightening’ (Picture: Getty Images)

Ronnie O’Sullivan may be the greatest snooker player of all time, but doesn’t hold the aura that great players of the past did, says Peter Lines, who says he was ‘in awe’ of Steve Davis on the table.

Lines regained his place on the main tour this summer as he came through Q School in the first event, returning to professional status at the age of 51.

Having turned professional way back in 1991, the Yorkshireman has taken on many of the greatest players in history and has seen the tour change significantly over the years.

With so many tournaments in the modern game, and with flat draws throwing the top players into the first round of many of them, Lines feels the elite players do not have the aura they once did, despite being as good or better than their predecessors, a presence that Davis held in abundance during his pomp in the 1980s and even past his peak into the 90s.

I don’t think the aura that those sort of players had…Steve Davis etc. I don’t think it’s around anymore because you see these players all the time, you’re around them, they’re on the TV, you’re on the TV,’ Lines told the Talking Snooker podcast.

Basically it seems that everyone gets on the TV these days, whereas you used to have to win so many matches just to get there and then you were so in awe when you got there you just folded.

For me, Steve Davis [had the greatest aura], because I grew up watching Steve Davis and I just love him.

They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes but I’ve met Steve a few times and he is a great bloke. Best exhibition I’ve ever seen, the nicest bloke you’ve met, fantastic.

Despite Lines being in awe of his hero Davis, it is O’Sullivan he sees as the finest ever player, despite holding an impressive 2-1 head-to-head record against the Rocket.

The best player I’ve ever played is the Rocket because I think he’s the best player the game’s ever seen,’ he said.

2017 UK Championship - Day 8
Peter Lines is on the main tour this season alongside his son Oliver (Picture: Getty Images)

To still be producing the level he’s producing at 45 is absolutely frightening, absolutely frightening how good he is and how good he’s always been.

Lines wanted to give a nod to a fellow Yorkshireman in the greatest of all time debate, recognising the late great Paul Hunter as one of the top three most talented players he has seen, before his tragic death at just 27.

‘I watched Paul Hunter, he was a phenomenal talent and it’s a shame obviously that no one ever got to see him lift the world title,’ said Peter.

He was one of the best two or three players I’ve ever seen talent-wise, as a youngster.’

Lines will return to action at the Championship League in July in Leicester, with O’Sullivan also potentially in action at the Morningside Arena.

Yes, indeed, when you are around a person all the time, no matter who they are and what they achieved, the “intimidation” factor fades away.

As Lewis pointed out, introducing a qualification round for the Home Nations, with the top 16 playing their first round separately at the venue will probably make it harder for the lower ranked players and the rookies when they will meet those top players. That said, with only four tables, those who are really interested will be able to watch a lot more of them over the season. Hopefully we will get to see two tables, i.e, half of the matches.

And, about Ronnie, John Hunter from Cuestars Academy has made this very entertaining Break Quiz: https://www.cuestarsacademy.co.uk/ronnie-osullivan-break-quiz/  Try it out!