The 2021 Gibraltar Open – Hendry’s return

The 2021 Gibraltar Open is about to start and the man talking point ahead of the tournament is Stephen Hendry’s return.

WST have published this video on their YouTube channel

There has also been this interesting interview with Eurosport:

GIBRALTAR OPEN 2021: ‘I BASICALLY GAVE UP’ – STEPHEN HENDRY HOPING TO MAKE UP FOR ‘EMBARRASSMENT’

Stephen Hendry confirmed he would appear at the Gibraltar Open – staged in Milton Keynes – which runs from March 1 to March 7 live on Eurosport. A legend of snooker, having recorded 775 century breaks in his decorated career, Hendry says he wants to prove the doubters wrong and make up for his last loss back in 2012.

HendryReturns

Seven-time world title winner Stephen Hendry says he wants to make up for an “embarrassing” loss nine years ago when he makes his comeback at the Gibraltar Open aged 52 next week.
I lost 13-2 to Steve Maguire [in the quarter-finals] and I basically gave up about a third of the way through the match,” he told The Times.

I KNEW IT WAS OVER. I KNEW I COULDN’T COMPETE.

I would like my last match at the Crucible, if possible, to be a match I can look back on and think, ‘I played well, I did everything I could even if I lost.
“I want a game when I can be happy with what I gave rather than that 13-2 embarrassment.
“One of my goals in this comeback is not about winning but just to get back to the Crucible.

I AM GOING TO HAVE TO WIN FOUR MATCHES [IN QUALIFYING] JUST TO GET THERE, ALMOST A MINI-TOURNAMENT, SO IT’S GOING TO BE SO, SO DIFFICULT. BUT THERE’S NO POINT IN SETTING YOURSELF EASY GOALS.

Judd Trump says it would be a “surprise” to him if Hendry “won any games at all” on his return.

Hendry insists he is not fussed by the talk and compares his comeback to that made by golfer Tiger Woods.
I heard some of the same stuff when Tiger Woods was coming back, that he wouldn’t be able to compete because the young players were hitting it longer than him now,” he said.

EVERYONE IS ENTITLED TO THEIR OPINION. I JUST SAW JUDD, WE’VE HAD A LAUGH ABOUT IT. IT WOULD MAKE IT NICE TO WIN MY FIRST MATCH AND SAY, ‘THERE YOU GO.’

Hendry believes that the overall standard of the tour has not significantly improved since his prime years.

He added: “The top players are great, great players but there is still a lot of snooker out there where I think: ‘There’s nothing there that I wasn’t doing’.”
My return feels like a double-edged sword. I am a scalp, I’ve still got the name someone wants to beat but, then, who wants to lose to me in my first match since 2012? There’s pressure both ways.

So, that’s a bit different from what we have seen elsewhere.

I was at the Crucible, taking pictures that year, and in the media room. It was all strange. Stephen dry had needed to qualify for the World Championship that year. He had beaten Gerard Greene by 10-8. He then completely dominate Stuart Bingham in the first round , beating him 10-4 and making a maximum, and John Higgings who was defending champions, beating him by 13-4. He had been unusually animated after his maximum. Then against Stephen Maguire, he struggled. The third frame was close, but Stephen made a mistake at a crucial moment and then it was as if he had been knocked out, it went all spiralling down. It was as if every belief had left him. After the match, he came to the media room, sat down, and calmly said “I have played my last professional match”. It took (almost) everyone by surprise. There was a stunned silence in the room. Stephen then explained that he had taken his decisions months earlier. That he didn’t like the new structure of the tour, didn’t want to struggle in qualifier and wasn’t prepared to carry on if he could not win anymore.

Good luck to him on his return. It’s quite the challenge.

Ronnie speaks to Phil Haigh ahead of his L16 match in the 2021 Players Championship

Ronnie has been speaking to Phil Haigh ahead of his match tonight and I think this interview explains a lot about the way he’s playing at the moment.

Here is the interview:

Ronnie O’Sullivan: Losses don’t hurt when you’re the most successful snooker player of all time

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Ronnie O’Sullivan is back in action on Tuesday after losing the Welsh Open final on Sunday (Picture: Getty Images)

Ronnie O’Sullivan was not left too disappointed by his deciding-frame defeat in the Welsh Open final on Sunday night, saying it is tough to feel down after losses when you’re the most successful player in history.

The Rocket was beaten 9-8 by Jordan Brown in a remarkable final at Celtic Manor as the man who came into the tournament priced at 750/1 won his first ranking title.

O’Sullivan is still looking for his first trophy since winning the World Championship title in August but has now lost in three finals after also falling at the last hurdle in the Northern Ireland and Scottish Opens.

The world champion was asked if he was starting to get wound up by these defeats in finals and he said he is almost immune to those kind of feelings after the career he has had so far.

‘I suppose if I hadn’t won 37 ranking tournaments and 20 majors it might have maybe had a little dent in me,’ O’Sullivan said after the Welsh Open final. ‘But when you’ve been the most successful snooker player of all time, disappointments like that, you kind of just take them in your stride.

‘I thought it was a good match, Jordan played fantastically well, held himself together brilliantly in the last frame. Disappointed obviously to lose, but also happy to be involved in a good match.’

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Ronnie O’Sullivan was full of praise for Jordan Brown after the Welsh Open final (Picture: Zheng Zhai)

O’Sullivan is back in action on Tuesday night in the Players Championship in Milton Keynes as he takes on Ding Junhui in the first round.

The Rocket has played a lot of events this year, by his standards, but shows no sign of slowing down with the World Championship approaching.

‘It’s just one continuous tournament, isn’t it?’ O’Sullivan said. ‘You can’t separate them anymore, it’s just like every day one runs into the other.

‘Someone asked me what my next tournament was the other day and I said, “it’s impossible to know, it’s like having 30 children and trying to remember all their names.”

‘I just try and look at it like one big tournament and just try to play. This week could be good but next week might not be so good, but who cares?’

O’Sullivan has also entered the Gibraltar Open next week and will also play in the Tour Championship next month back at Celtic Manor as he looks to get in the best shape possible to defend his world title in Sheffield.

He takes on Ding Junhui on Tuesday evening at the Players Championship with the winner taking on either Jack Lisowski or Martin Gould in the quarter-finals.

Ronnie intends to play in the Tour Championship but isn’t safe just yet. He could do with winning tonight.

The 2021 Welsh Open – Reactions from both finalists.

The excellent Phil Haigh spoke to both finalists after their match… here is what they had to say:

Jordan Brown:

Jordan Brown: I’ve been critical of Ronnie O’Sullivan but he’s changed my opinion of him

Jordan Brown
Jordan Brown stunned the snooker world with his Welsh Open win (Picture: WST)

Jordan Brown secured one of the most remarkable victories in snooker history on Sunday night as he beat Ronnie O’Sullivan 9-8 to win the Welsh Open and it has change his life, his bank balance and his opinion of the Rocket.

The 33-year-old had never been to a ranking semi-final before this event and only once made a quarter-final, which is why the bookmakers were happy to offer odds of 750/1 on him lifting the trophy at Celtic Manor.

The Antrim Ferrari showed sublime quality and incredible nerve over the week, winning five matches in deciding frames and downing Mark Selby in the last eight before thrashing Stephen Maguire in the semis to set up the showdown with O’Sullivan.

Brown was briefly on the tour over a decade ago and only returned in 2018, with his lack of experience illustrated by the fact he had never played the Rocket before Sunday night in Newport.

However, it mattered not that he was taking on the world champion for the first time and contesting his first ever major final as he went toe-to-toe with the Rocket throughout and finally got over the line in the epic contest with a tremendous break of 74 in the decider.

Jordan was taking on an idol in Ronnie, which makes the achievement all the more incredible for onlookers, but also all the more special for him.

‘He’s the greatest of all time and his speech there at the end meant so much to me, coming from him,’ Brown told Metro.co.uk. ‘You could tell he genuinely meant it. We all know what Ronnie’s like, he’s a bit temperamental, but for someone like him to do that there is unbelievable.’

O’Sullivan told Rob Walker after suffering defeat: ‘I’ve enjoyed every minute of that today, I’ve had such a fantastic time, loved playing Jordan, he’s a great guy, he really is.

‘I’m so happy for him to win, he’s a lovely guy and a fantastic player.

‘You don’t beat Selby, Maguire and I played alright tonight, not many people beat me when I’m playing alright so he’s a proper player, you know.

‘Fantastic for Jordan, his night and you couldn’t be happier for him.’

Brown also revealed a nice moment the two men shared after the final ball was potted, explaining: ‘He said he really enjoyed the match and I thoroughly deserved it, great break in the last frame.

‘All I said to him was that it was an absolute honour to play against him. He said, “thanks but no, really you definitely deserve it and great match.”‘

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Ronnie O’Sullivan congratulates Jordan Brown after the match (Picture: WST)

O’Sullivan’s class in defeat has turned round Brown’s view of him after the Northern Irishman admitted he had been both annoyed and motivated by the Rocket’s comments at the 2020 World Championship.

The six-time world champ said at the Crucible last year that he would have to lose an arm and a leg to drop out of the world’s top 50, which ‘didn’t go down well’ with Brown who was lower down the rankings than that at the time.

The Antrim star has proved that there is immense quality further down the rankings and is also happy to change his view of the Rocket after not seeing him in the best light recently.

‘It did annoy me, but it just spurred me on because I just wasn’t having that,’ Brown told Metro.co.uk of O’Sullivan’s comments.

‘Today I’ve definitely proved him wrong, that I’m not a numpty. I’ve definitely proved a lot, not just to him, but to everyone on tour, people in general, that I can play this game and to a very high level. I’ve had so many messages from my fellow competitors and it means so much to me.

‘I’ve been very critical of Ronnie, especially recently because I’ve always looked up to him and when he’s making comments like he did, you think to yourself, “What’s he like? Why is he getting on like that?”

‘He’s not proving himself to anybody, he should be the role model, the benchmark for everybody else. I just think he lets himself down.

‘But I’ve sort of changed my opinion of him today, you could tell that was genuine at the end, so thank you to him.’

Jordan Brown
It was an emotional victory for Brown after his rollercoaster ride (Picture: WST)

Brown’s remarkable story has seen him climb to these new heights after nearly giving up the game in his late twenties as he worked in a petrol station and struggled for motivation and any form of success.

He believes his journey has helped develop the immense bottle he showed, not only in the final, but in all five matches he won in a deciding frame over the Welsh Open, with another of those coming against the iron-willed Selby.

‘It makes you even more determined because I’ve hit rock bottom at times in the past,’ said Jordan. ‘There actually was a time when I genuinely wasn’t going to play the  game anymore, so to think of that and now is unbelievable,

‘I can’t quite believe this is all happening. I’m just an ordinary lad who loves to play snooker and is lucky enough to be playing it for a living.’

There was an incredible outpouring of congratulation and joy for Brown from his fellow players after his stunning win, with dozens of professionals sending him their best wishes on social media.

The down to earth, unassuming character ruffled plenty of feathers with his performances at Celtic Manor, but he is not out to do that away from the table, and he feels that is why people are pleased for him to do well.

‘I think I just give a good impression,’ he said. ‘I don’t really have any enemies in this world, I’m a genuine, nice lad,

‘I always  get on with anybody, don’t like to get myself in any trouble, don’t fall out with anybody. I think I give that impression out there, I’m just laid back as well, in general. I think that helps.’

The immensely likeable Brown was self-deprecating even after the sensational achievement, suggesting that anyone would have been out of their mind to take the bookmakers up on their 750/1 pre-tournament price on him.

‘It should have been 10 times that!’ Brown said. ‘They would have been mad to even have a pound on me, they might as well have thrown it down the drain.’

Jordan Brown

Clearly that did not turn out to be the case as he became the longest-priced winner of an event in snooker history and anyone who had fancied a flutter on him would be very thankful they did.

The £70,000 Brown earned himself this week is by far the biggest prize of his career, providing him a level of wealth he has never experienced and did not see coming so soon after turning pro in 2018.

He is not a man likely to get too big for his boots, though, and thanks to going through the toughest times just a few years ago, he is already focussed on the sensible option.

‘Even before today it was life-changing,’ Jordan said of his significant prize money, boosted by qualification for the Players Championship and Champion of Champions.

‘I was thinking to myself, “my God, I’m going to be sitting next Friday with five figures in my account!” I’ve never seen that amount of money before.

‘It’s going to take a while to sink in because I’m not going to know what to do with it, it’s so much money.

‘It’s going to set me up for a long time, I’m one of those people that will be responsible, investments and stuff like that. I’m absolutely not going wild, I’ll be very good at looking after it.’

After his performances at Celtic Manor, Brown can expect plenty more return on his snooker investment in the future.

Ronnie:

Ronnie O’Sullivan glad his comments spurred Jordan Brown on after shock Welsh Open defeat

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Ronnie O’Sullivan had nothing but praise for Jordan Brown (Picture: WST)

Ronnie O’Sullivan had nothing but praise for Jordan Brown after his stunning victory in the Welsh Open final on Sunday night, glad that his comments have helped spur the Northern Irishman on to success.

Brown completed a miraculous run at the Welsh Open this week by beating the Rocket 9-8 in the final at Celtic Manor in dramatic circumstances.

The 33-year-old came into the tournament with odds of 750/1 to lift the title but pulled off a string of upsets, including beating Mark Selby in the quarters and Stephen Maguire in the semi-finals.

After downing Maguire, Brown was faced with the prospect of taking on the Rocket in the final and was relishing the prospect after admitting he had been annoyed by O’Sullivan’s comments at last year’s World Championship.

Ronnie said he would have to lose an arm and a leg to drop out of the world’s top 50 and Brown, who came into this event ranked number 81, said they ‘didn’t go down well’ with him.

O’Sullivan insists they were comments meant to inspire players, though, and after his nail-biting loss in Wales, is glad Brown has used them in the best way possible.

‘Like I said, you can take it in two ways, a negative way and a positive way and Jordan’s took it in a positive way,’ O’Sullivan told Metro.co.uk.

‘He’s gone: “You know what, that’s what I needed to hear to motivate me.”

‘It’s worked for me in the past when people have doubted me and knocked me, I’ve just gone, “lovely.”

‘It’s the best inspiration you can get sometimes, so I’m looking for someone to knock me again.’

Brown has had a circuitous route to a ranking title, nearly giving up the game in his mid-twenties and only coming back onto the tour in 2018.

The Antrim Ferrari was then just one match away from dropping off tour last year before qualifying for the World Championship and turning his career around before surging on to this remarkable success.

Jordan Brown
(Picture: Eurosport)

O’Sullivan, despite the loss, is delighted for his conqueror, saying: ‘I don’t know  Jordan well enough to know his complete story but I’m over the moon for him to have got that victory today. How can you not be pleased for him?

‘I really enjoyed it, I really did, a good match to be involved in.

‘I was good, I could have been better, but I’ll take that game, scored okay, played some good safety. I’m not disappointed about how I played.’

O’Sullivan was remarkably chipper despite losing in a deciding frame of a ranking event final and insists he doesn’t get down about snooker matches anymore.

‘Listen, I’ve got my finger in quite a lot of pies now,’ he said. ‘This is one pie of seven or eight,

‘I’ve had a great week this week with some of the other fingers stuck in other pies. I’ve got to take the rough with the smooth, the snooker hasn’t been all bad.

Jordan Brown
Jordan Brown is the first Northern Irishman to win the Welsh Open (Picture: WST)

‘I’ve had some other good stuff that’s gone on this week as well. I’m not just a snooker player now, I’m here because I want to be here and I’m playing just for the fun of it, which is a nice place to be in.’

O’Sullivan won his first ranking event title all the way back at the 1993 UK Championship and recalls what he did after, as Brown, a bit depressingly, celebrates his maiden ranking crown alone in a Newport hotel.

‘I think I went home, stopped off in a service station and got recognised for the first time, that was pretty cool,’ said Ronnie.

‘He can drink some beer out of that trophy, I’m sure he’ll enjoy it.’

So good to read … especially as opposed to the nasty reactions from some.

The 2021 Welsh Open – Ronnie wins his last 128 match in no time

Ronnie beat Robbie Williams by 4-0 yesterday afternoon. It took him 46 minutes! 

Here are the scores and stats:

WelshOpen2021ROSL128-ScoresWelshOpen2021ROSL128-Stats

The WST report is short:

WelshOpen2021ROSL128-1World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan put on a strong performance to brush aside Robbie Williams 4-0 and set up a mouth watering last 64 clash with Jimmy White.

The Rocket fired in breaks of 58, 122, 66 and 73 as he eased to the whitewash win in just 45 minutes.

O’Sullivan said: “I’m looking forward to playing Jimmy, it should be good fun. Hopefully we can both play well and put on a good show for the fans.

“I use every match as a practice session. I don’t want to play in every tournament, I don’t really want to go deep in every tournament. I just want to keep sharp and let most people know that I can still play.”

Eurosport provided something more substantial:

WELSH OPEN 2021 – RONNIE O’SULLIVAN CRUSHES ROBBIE WILLIAMS TO SET UP CLASH WITH JIMMY WHITE

Judd Trump is the favourite for the event, but he will need to improve on the performance he delivered against Zhao Jianbo in the first round. Shaun Murphy was extremely impressive in getting the better of Zak Surety and he will be confident about defending the title he won at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena 12 months ago. But Ronnie O’Sullivan looked in ominous form on Tuesday.

Ronnie O’Sullivan powered into the second round of the Welsh Open with a 4-0 win over Robbie Williams.
The world champion has looked sharp in recent weeks, impressing despite not qualifying from the group stage of the Championship League, and he oozed quality in disposing of Williams at the Celtic Manor Resort.

Breaks of 56, 66, 122 and 73 were the highlights of a 4-0 win that was secured in 45 minutes.

Speaking in the Eurosport studio with Andy Goldstein and White, O’Sullivan said of his performance level, which is always the subject of intense debate: “It’s quite strange I think everybody else is more worried and intrigued by my form than I am in many ways. I just go out there and play, have a bit of fun, enjoy it. Just kills a bit of time, obviously I like to play well but it doesn’t ruin me.

Williams went into the game knowing he could not afford errors, but he coughed one up early in the first frame and a break of 56 from O’Sullivan set the tone for the contest.

The underdog knocked in an excellent plant in the second frame to show his quality, but he unpicked the good work by missing a pink into the middle and O’Sullivan stepped in with a 122 – his 26th ton of the season and 1087th of his career.

Williams had chances in the third as O’Sullivan missed a few balls, but he did not take them and a 66 break enabled the world champion to take the third.

The fourth frame summed up the contest, as Williams left a long red above ground and O’Sullivan knocked in a 73 to secure the win and a meeting with Jimmy White in the second round.

O’Sullivan said: “Listen, if you look at the game and the history of the game there’s only been three or four players who’ve managed to sell tickets and Jimmy has done that as well as anybody. It’s probably only me, Jimmy, Alex Higgins maybe. So legend playing junior legend.

He was also interviewed by the excellent Phil Haigh:

Phil Haigh Tuesday 16 Feb 2021 7:40 pm

Ronnie O’Sullivan wants to keep playing snooker well into his sixties, taking inspiration from comedy icon Ken Dodd, and doesn’t see any reason why he can’t be playing a very high standard well into his fifties.

The Rocket was in fine form on Tuesday as he breezed past Robbie Williams and into the second round of the Welsh Open with a 4-0 victory at Celtic Manor.

The world champion is looking for his fifth title at this event and, as always, is among the favourite to be lifting the trophy on Sunday night.

The 45-year-old insists that winning tournaments is barely a secondary concern to him these days, but he wants and needs to keep competing in order to stay relevant for the exhibition circuit, which is his primary snooker love.

O’Sullivan takes on Jimmy White in the second round in Wales on Wednesday and he doesn’t see any reason why he can’t still be playing well as he approaches the Whirlwind’s age of 58.

My main thing is I want to do a Ken Dodd, he toured until the day he died,’ O’Sullivan told Metro.co.uk.

For me, that’s playing exhibitions and having fun and as long as I keep fit and healthy, I try and do 30 or 40 nights a year. I loved it, me and my mate on the road, it was like a road trip, we have so much fun.

I play enough snooker to be sharp enough for exhibitions, which is great. I can manage my diary much better, I like to be secure in what I’m doing, have control of what I’m doing.

55 should be the minimum really, [Steve] Davis was still playing good snooker at 55. If I’m still in good shape, playing good snooker, why not do exhibitions until I’m 65? If you’re still playing well, people are enjoying it, you’re still doing good things on the table, that would be great for me.

The reigning world champion is still looking to win his first tournament of the season since his superb triumph at the Crucible in August, whilst Judd Trump has been racking up titles.

The world number one has won four ranking titles this campaign and remarked that he would rather be winning a string of events over a season than just picking up a lone World Championship title.

The Rocket, unsurprisingly, doesn’t agree, saying the major titles in the game – the World Championship, Masters and UK Championship – are the only credible judge of a player.

O’Sullivan compared winning lots of other events to the golf career of Colin Montgomerie, while it was Tiger Woods taking home the biggest prizes.

‘It’s very difficult to say when you’re playing however many tournaments they play,’ said Ronnie when presented with Judd’s comments.

‘The only real yardstick that you can compare, that never changes, is the Worlds, the Masters and the UK. I think the same with golf and tennis.

Judd Trump on the World Championship:

‘I know winning the Worlds is an amazing achievement, but I’d much rather win five or six events a year than just pick up that lone World Championship.‘I’d rather have the consistency of playing well 50 weeks of the year and have a bad two weeks at the Worlds, rather than just play well for a couple of weeks and a bad 50 weeks‘It certainly makes me a lot happier playing well week-in-week-out than just peaking for one event. Obviously it would be nice to win them all but the Worlds is just one event, it’s exactly the same as every other tournament to me. The only difference is from people looking from the outside saying the Worlds is special, as a player every tournament is equally important.’ 

Everybody knows that it’s the big tournaments, that’s where the big players produce their best. That’s the only constant way of judging how somebody’s done, but everybody has a different approach to how they want to do it.

‘My approach is less on winning tournaments, less on rankings and just enjoying it and having fun. Other players are like Colin Montgomerie, he dominated the European Tour for so many seasons but couldn’t quite win the majors because Tiger Woods was there and he was a hard man to stop.

‘There’s no wrong or right way, it’s whatever floats your boat.

‘Sullivan has the opportunity to lift the Ray Reardon Trophy on Sunday for the first time, with the prize renamed after his old mentor since the last time the Rocket won this event.

The world champ says that his connection with Reardon runs much deeper than the trophy making a difference and they still have a close relationship to this day.

The relationship I have with Ray is much more important than a trophy, it would be great if Ray was here to hand the trophy over, obviously that would be a special moment,’ he said.

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O’Sullivan credits Reardon with teaching how to become a winner (Picture: Getty)

‘Any tournament is great to be in and great to participate in. The relationship I had with Ray and the time we spent together is what I’ll remember most.

‘We still chat on the phone, not as much as we used to, but I still check in with him now and again. I’m sure he’ll have been watching today so I’ll get a little text from him telling me I was rubbish and could improve in certain areas.’

Having skipped the German Masters and the Shoot Out, this is the Rocket’s first ranking event of the year and since he spent Christmas Day working with a homeless charity.

It is something the Rocket does on an annual basis and gets a lot of pleasure out of.

I haven’t done much since, because I haven’t got masses of time, but Christmas Day is my chance to get involved and do stuff for the homeless.

‘When I’m playing a bit less and travelling less I’ll do more, I’m still involved in certain projects.

‘I do it every Christmas, go and feed the homeless, I enjoy it, giving back, seeing people that are down on their luck, haven’t got much positive stuff going on, to be able to be with them is quite nice.

‘I don’t think they watch too much snooker, but as long as you get a smile out of them, it’s all good.’

O’Sullivan takes on White on Wednesday in the second round of the Welsh Open.

I have put the part of the text that refers to Judd Trump’s quotes in a different colour to make the it easier to read/understand as more Ronnie quotes follow immediately and the separation is not very obvious in the original presentation.

As usual with Ronnie there is a bit of contradiction … he doesn’t care to win events but would dearly love to receive the trophy, presented by Ray Reardon, this week. Never mind … as he would say “It’s all good….”. 😉

Ronnie was in the studio in the evening.

Ronnie about Stephen Hendry’s return

This was actually published by Eurosport before the Shoot Out:

SNOOKER NEWS – RONNIE O’SULLIVAN: STEPHEN HENDRY WILL BE PLUNGED STRAIGHT INTO A ‘RAT RACE’

Stephen Hendry’s return to competitive snooker after a nine-year absence will not be a glamorous occasion as he is forced to battle it out in a “rat race” with the sport’s lesser lights, according to world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan. Hendry had hoped to make his comeback at the Welsh Open later this month, but revealed on Friday his online entry form had not been received by tournament organisers.

Ronnie & Hendry

By DESMOND KANE

Stephen Hendry will be plunged straight into a snooker “rat race” when he returns to the professional circuit, according to world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Hendry last played a competitive match on the main tour at the 2012 World Championship quarter-finals when he announced his retirement following a 13-2 filleting by fellow Scot Stephen Maguire.

After receiving a two-year invitational tour card alongside fellow green baize icons Jimmy White and Ken Doherty, the seven-times world champion had hoped to return at the Welsh Open (15-21 February LIVE on Eurosport) at Celtic Manor only to discover his online entry form had not been received by the tournament organisers.

Very disappointed I’m not playing in the Welsh Open,” he said on Friday.”I did enter as soon as entry opened online, must have been a glitch in system, however. I found out the other night I wasn’t in it, gutted as I was really looking forward to playing,” commented Hendry, who won the first Welsh Open with a 9-3 win over Darren Morgan in 1992 before claiming further victories in 1997 and 2003.

The Gibraltar Open (1-7 March) is the last ranking event open to all tour professionals before the World Championship qualifiers begin on 7 April in Sheffield, but Hendry has not outlined his plans after withdrawing from the WST Pro Series event last month.

Whenever or wherever Hendry touches down, 37-times ranking event winner O’Sullivan feels his old rival’s celebrated return at the age of 52 will not be a romantic occasion due to the dog-eat-dog nature of the sport.

The world number three is adamant Hendry, who he first faced in Dubai in 1993 when Hendry was then a three-times world champion, is returning to a much-changed landscape that no longer offers any of the top players protection through ranking points.

It’s okay picking and choosing your tournaments, but when you go down that route you have to do well in them otherwise you don’t ever seem to be climbing the rankings,” O’Sullivan told Eurosport.
I don’t think rankings are anywhere near as important as they used to be. Being in a tiered system, reaching the top 16 was always an ambition of a player so you could step out of that rat race if you like.

BUT NOW THERE IS NO TIERED SYSTEM, EVERYBODY IS IN THE RAT RACE AND THEY ALL COME IN AT ROUND ONE.

There is now no point in being a top 16 player. If you play, you win and if you don’t, you go home. You really have to win matches.”

Hendry retired in 2012 after growing increasingly exasperated with the dwindling standard of his performances. He endured a seven-year title drought with his last ranking event victory coming at the 2005 Malta Cup.

The Scotsman has rediscovered his passion for the sport after working with Stephen Feeney, whose celebrated SightRight method helped Mark Williams win a third world title at the age of 43 in 2018 and O’Sullivan end a seven-year wait to claim his sixth Crucible title last August.

O’Sullivan feels Feeney’s work ethic will have a positive effect on Hendry’s ambition to be a competitive force at the highest level.

It’s a good method. It’s definitely worth exploring if you are a snooker player. Stephen Feeney is great to work with and gets you really motivated,” said O’Sullivan.
It gives you a bit of structure to your practice. It’s all about ball striking, cue action and alignment.
It’s always good to explore different ways of achieving the perfect cue action and I think Stephen is super excited that he can work with Steve.
I think Stephen needed that. He needed someone with Feeney’s passion to get him back working hard.

THERE IS A LOT OF HARD WORK AHEAD FOR STEPHEN. IT’S GOING TO BE TOUGH FOR HIM, BUT IF ANYBODY CAN DO IT AND GIVE IT A GO IT WILL BE HENDRY.

I believe that the return will be extremely difficult for Stephen Hendry, its psychological aspect in particular. I feel that, at times, Steve Feeney has put too much pressure on him. maybe creating too much expectations. Also, the longer he delays it, the harder it will be for Spephen IMO.
Everyone is different of course, but, personally, I think that he should have entered one of the groups/round-robin events. Lots of matches against different opponents in a short time span, under lower pressure as well because those events are played under a short format, and aren’t that prestigious. It would have allowed him to assess where his game stands, and given him time to work on the weaknesses. Now the season is already coming to an end and there is only the Gibraltar Open and the World Championship qualifiers for him to play in … if  he enters.

Ronnie discusses why snooker players are particularly exposed to depression

In an exclusive interview with Desmond Kane, Ronnie explains why snooker players are particularly exposed to depression, how to manage it and about his desire to help others.

RONNIE O’SULLIVAN EXCLUSIVE: ‘CAN YOU JUSTIFY FEELING LIKE S***?’ – WHY DEPRESSION STALKS SNOOKER

World champion Ronnie O’Sullivan is keen to help snooker confront its mental health malady during the UK’s third national lockdown. O’Sullivan has battled depression throughout his life and is not surprised to discover a number of players opening up about their own experiences of the illness during such a bleak time for society.

RonnieAboutDepression

BY DESMOND KANE

Amid potting black balls, the black dog of depression is never far from the darkened domains of the professional snooker table. During the global coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing onset of a third national lockdown in the UK prior to Christmas, the old green baize has been disturbed by some despairing comments from some of its leading figures about a familiar incurable gloom affecting the human condition.

Former world champions Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy and world semi-finalist Gary Wilson have all opened up in recent weeks about a sense of personal despair blighting their mental health.

Their revelations come after the former German Masters winner Martin Gould – who lost 9-8 to Selby in an epic European Masters final in September – explained how he almost quit the sport before the UK’s first lockdown last March after seeking medical help because “I felt mentally and physically drained” in fighting his inner turmoil.

Selby revealed during the Masters that he contemplated suicide as a teenager after the premature death of his father David when he was only 16. He continues to take medication to help him cope.

“When people are going through depression it’s very tough and times like this don’t make it any easier because you’re locked in your house and you have so much time to think about stuff,” said the former world number one in an interview with Eurosport.

Ronnie O’Sullivan has always spoken openly and candidly about the importance of mental health and physical well-being having faced bigger challenges in confronting himself than any opponent he has met during a gilded 29-year career that brought him a sixth world title last August.

Ronnie about depression tweet

He is keen to use his own personal experience of anguish by providing help, support and advice on the best way to cope with the illness via his social media platforms.

“I thought can we do some stuff to help people by putting a few videos online,” said O’Sullivan. “Just all sorts of stuff and we’re looking to produce a lot more content and channel it into a certain area where I have an interest.

“If you feel like you can help someone, it’s great you can do it from a point of view where I can actually enjoy it and have something to give back.

“I understand a bit about that side of mental health if you like, and that is definitely something I’m passionate about.

I DON’T THINK IT’S HEALTHY TO BE IN A ROOM HITTING BALLS FOR FOUR, FIVE AND SIX HOURS. THAT’S WHAT SNOOKER PLAYERS GENERALLY DO.

“Most people go down the club, have a laugh and chat with their mates while they are playing, but when it becomes a job you don’t talk.

“You just keep quiet, concentrate and stay in that bubble for as long as you can. I just think that’s not healthy in general to do that day in, day out.”

O’Sullivan checked into a hospital for several days in 2016 suffering from exhaustion after lashing out in a dressing room after a 10-7 win over David Gilbert in the first round of the World Championship.

The record 37-times ranking event winner is not alone in suffering the loneliness of the long-distance potter. It is an affliction the game’s greatest player has described as “snooker depression” during a gloriously successful but wildly undulating rise to the summit of his sport. It is an ailment which is instantly recognisable to several of his fellow professionals.

“I’ve got no motivation to play snooker, to get out of bed, I’m struggling to see a purpose or an end goal,” said the 2019 world semi-finalist Gary Wilson during the Championship League earlier this month. “I don’t know what the experts would say, but it sounds like depression and that’s what I’ve been going through.”

Apart from the World Championship in Sheffield last August, snooker has been shunted behind closed doors at the Marshall Arena next to the MK Dons football ground.

Murphy, the 2005 world champion, admits the lockdown took a heavy toll on him as he battled weight gain without the oxygen of his daily practice routine from a sport that has found itself marooned in Milton Keynes to enable players to earn a living amid constant Covid-19 testing and isolating in hotel rooms since last June.

“When we did return, we were trapped in a hotel in Milton Keynes, I just really struggled with it. I didn’t go and see a doctor or anything, but I would say I was borderline suffering with depression really. I was very low,” he said.

O’Sullivan enjoys running for fun to keep his mental compass pointing in the right direction, but feels the solitary existence of a snooker player is detrimental to achieving harmony away from the table.

“At least in football, you have your mates to lean on,” commented O’Sullivan. “They know when you are not having a good time and know what to say to pick you up.

“In some team sports, they actively seek out different players because everyone complements each other, but in snooker you don’t get that.

“Even in golf, you get to have a caddie and if you choose the right person, they can have an influence on how your mental state is and how your mood is.
“In snooker, you don’t get that, so that is why I find it really challenging.

FOR A LOT OF THE SNOOKER PLAYERS, I CAN UNDERSTAND THE PROBLEMS BECAUSE IT’S NOT THE HEALTHIEST OF WAYS TO SPEND YOUR TIME. I’VE HAD TO MELLOW A BIT TO KEEP PLAYING AND BECOME A BIT PHILOSOPHICAL TO KEEP MY SANITY, BUT NOT EVERYBODY IS IN THAT BOAT.”

O’Sullivan admits in the past he would accept a low mental state as a natural by-product of his desire to win trophies, but believes he has had to curtail his own expectations to cope.

He has been helped by the sports psychiatrist Steve Peters since 2011, winning three of his six world titles over the past decade after working closely with the Middlesbrough-born professor, author of the 2012 book The Chimp Paradox, which has sold over one million copies.

The toughest frame in snooker appears to be building a positive frame of mind that can buffet the mental storms that rage. Sportsmen should not define themselves by material success in their respective fields.

Are you a positive person who can motivate others?” said Peters. “Are you kind? Do you have integrity? If you are measuring success against your values – rather than what car you own or how much you earn – then building self-esteem is in your own hands.”

O’Sullivan feels that not every player can treat success and failure the same in trying to justify their self-worth to the wider world.

“Everybody is at different stages of their careers,” he explained. “When you are in your pomp, and getting victories, trophies and are at number one you don’t mind taking the snooker depression because you think I’m getting rewarded for it.

BUT IF YOU ARE PUTTING THAT EFFORT IN AND AREN’T GETTING ANYTHING BACK, GETTING BEATEN IN THE FIRST, SECOND AND THIRD ROUNDS ALL THE TIME, AND IT’S STILL LEAVING YOU FEELING LIKE S***, IT’S A LOT HARDER TO TAKE AND HANDLE.

“So what you do? Do you become philosophical? So it’s like a self-preservation thing, but with that you probably lose that intensity.

“Rather than play with the attitude it’s life-and-death, you think if you win, you win, if you lose, you lose, it doesn’t really matter.

“But then if you don’t play with the attitude that it’s life-and-death, are you really committed to wanting it as bad as the other guy, possibly?

IF SOMETHING IS HURTING BAD, AS LONG AS THE REWARD IS GOOD ENOUGH, I DON’T MIND HURTING, BUT AS LONG AS THE REWARD DOESN’T JUSTIFY THE HURT, YOU THINK, ‘HOLD ON, I’M NOT UTILISING MY TIME IN THE RIGHT WAY’.

“For me, I’ve had to get a bit more philosophical because I’m not winning as much as I used to. Why would I want to hurt after putting all that effort in? It’s all about getting the right balance really and how to approach it.”

O’Sullivan has consulted the six-times world champion Steve Davis on how he managed to cope with the perception of failure when Stephen Hendry usurped him as snooker’s dominant force in the 1990s.

Davis recovered from trailing O’Sullivan 8-4 to lift his third Masters in 1997, but the last of his 28 ranking event victories came two years earlier at the 1995 Welsh Open, 21 years before he retired from playing the sport.

ROSSPOTYReaction-5

“When I spoke to Davis, he said to me once the 10 years when Hendry came on the scene and began dominating were the worst 10 years of his life because he was trying to find a way to compete with Hendry,” said O’Sullivan.

“It took him 10 years to finally give up, and I think once he gave up in his mind, he started to enjoy it again.

“He would turn up, hit a few balls, get the odd result and win a tournament. He was just as happy with his defeats as he was with his wins. You end up not getting as disappointed if you lose, but don’t get as excited when you win.

“You flick that switch off. You detach emotionally from wanting it so bad. By doing that, you don’t get fired up like you used to which is like a self-preservation thing. You don’t get the joys of winning.

WHEN I WON THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP, I WASN’T OVER THE MOON. I THOUGHT, ‘OKAY, THAT WAS NICE, I’VE SURPRISED MYSELF,’ BUT IT WASN’T LIKE THE OTHER FIVE TIMES WHEN I WANTED IT SO BADLY.

“It’s a really fine line to work out what approach you take to it.”

Desmond Kane

WHAT SNOOKER PLAYERS HAVE SAID ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH

MARK ALLEN, 2018 MASTERS CHAMPION

Some days I wake up and I just can’t be bothered, I don’t have the motivation to do anything. It does get very lonely when you’re looking at the four walls of a hotel room for most of the year. It can be a great life, but it can also be tough and I suspect there are others secretly battling away with this, feeling they have to deal with it on their own as I did for a long time.”

GRAEME DOTT, 2006 WORLD CHAMPION

As far as my depression is concerned, it is something I will probably have to live with for the rest of my life, but I recognise the warning signs now and know when it is time to go back to the doctor and ask for more tablets.

MARTIN GOULD, 2016 GERMAN MASTERS CHAMPION

I didn’t want to be there. I just turned up and thought I’d get the match out of the way. I had no expectation of winning, and I thought to myself: ‘I can’t keep doing this’. I would have been more than happy to drop off the tour, give up playing on the main tour and concentrate on playing some seniors stuff later on after giving myself a year or two to get back to normal.”

SHAUN MURPHY, 2005 WORLD CHAMPION

Some of the comments on social media are just vile. I often wonder how we got into this body shaming culture, when did we start bullying each other about the way we look? I wanted to do something about it. I decided on New Year’s Day that I would start highlighting people saying these things. I’m going to start calling it out when they are vicious and bullying you. If you aren’t mentally strong, these things can have a real knock-on effect. We’ve seen some really high profile celebrities take their own life. It is awful really.

MARK SELBY, 2014, 2016 AND 2017 WORLD CHAMPION

When I was going through it – and even now, I’m still on the medication to this day – I went to see the professional people and they were telling me to do things that you enjoy and try to keep your mind active. But it’s difficult when you go through times like this because the things you do enjoy you cannot go and do. The only thing you can do is speak to the professional people, speak to your family and cry for help and get them to help you as well.

GARY WILSON, 2019 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP SEMI-FINALIST

I’m just totally gone, including snooker. I can’t play at all. I feel the worst I’ve ever felt and can’t see a way back anymore. I let John (Higgins) back in and apologised for the foul as he was plumb in. All I could do. First world problems. Although I do feel depressed generally and I’m not one, as many will know, to play on stuff like that or use them words lightly.

 

And that’s all top players speaking out here. You have to wonder what those who struggle to earn a living, just put food on the table and pay their bills are going through.

Players in the Sunday News: Anthony Hamilton, Yan Bingtao and Ronnie

Anthony Hamilton will play in the WST Pro Series today. He has been interviewed by Phil Haigh and has also answered fans questions on twitter via Phil Haigh’s account.

In this interview he explains how he is still struggling with the aftermath of covid-19 and how a positive attitude is helping him through the difficult times.

Anthony Hamilton talks still feeling the effects of Covid, his American alter-ego and a move into commentary

2017 Players Championship - Day 1
Anthony Hamilton is still struggling with the symptoms of Covid (Picture: Getty Images)

Two months after testing positive for Covid-19, Anthony Hamilton is still feeling the effects but is back in action this weekend as he looks to get his season back on track.

Hamilton can count himself especially unlucky to contract the virus after spending months shielding and barely leaving the house due to having asthma therefore increasing the risk of Covid.

The Sheriff of Pottingham famously qualified for the World Championship over the summer but decided competing wasn’t worth the risk and pulled out, a decision which he did not take lightly as he turned down a first visit to the Crucible since 2008.

Having returned to competition, the 49-year-old was forced to withdraw from the UK Championship in November after testing positive for Covid-19.

Two months later and he is still not back to 100 per cent, admitting that even when playing again in December, he was struggling to stand by the end of a best of seven match.

‘I still have got the lingering effects, like a lot of people have,’ Hamilton told Metro.co.uk. ‘Fatigue and breathlessness. I’m better than I was, it’s getting gradually better, but I’ve been knocked for six a bit.

‘About two months since I had it now. I played a match just before Christmas, it was only a best of seven, but I definitely flagged towards the end, I could almost not stand up.

‘I was like, “Jesus, this is more serious than I thought it was.” It’s only a short drive back from Milton Keynes but it felt like driving back from Glasgow.’

2017 Players Championship - Day 5
Hamilton is back on the table on Sunday in the WST Pro Series (Picture: Getty Images)

The match Anthony is referencing is a 4-3 loss to Eden Sharav in the Scottish Open, which proved to him how hard the virus had hit him.

‘I felt good up to 2-2, but then I was just hanging on,’ Hamilton explained.

‘Before Covid I was getting really fit, it’s weird for me, but I was feeling quite good. I was doing 80 miles a week on the exercise bike, I felt great.

‘But the contrast from then to now is night and day, it’s like I didn’t do anything for those six months, it’s been wiped out.

‘I used to feel like this in my 30s when I was in the pub all the time, I’m too old for that now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m up for the pub but I don’t want to go to work feeling s**t. It’s lose lose.

‘I still think I’ve been lucky, it’s just annoying that it gets in the way of every day life, but that’s hardly a hardship compared to some people. Yeah, I feel like crap, but you have to have a word with yourself, it could be a lot worse.’

It’s been a tough year for everyone and Hamilton is keeping a smile on his face despite everything, feeling that a 30-year professional snooker career helps you deal with disappointment.

‘I’ve definitely had enough of all this, we all have,’ Anthony said of the pandemic. ‘But I’m half used to feeling frustrated and depressed from being a snooker player for 30 years.’

The Sheriff feels that there are people to blame for the state the country is in right now, and has some strong words for the Government and how they have handled the crisis.

‘It’s unfortunate that we’re living in the country that’s dealt with it the worst in the world,’ he said. ‘Nothing makes any sense, people are dying, it’s frustrating that we’ve let fops run the country.

‘We’ve let the upper class take over politics and now we’re paying for it. Obviously America have just had the worst character in the history of politics and we’ve probably got the second worst, you’re probably looking at Pol Pot for number three!’

One positive of having caught the virus for Hamilton is not having to be quite as intensely strict about shielding as he was for much of 2020.

The Sheriff was barely leaving his home before, washing anything and everything he touched and he is now allowing himself to be slightly more relaxed after a positive test.

‘I’m not shielding like I was before, not quite so military about cleaning everything,’ he explained. ‘Obviously the positive about having it is I should be safe for a while.

‘I’ve let my brain chill out for a while and not clean every door handle I’ve touched, that’s a relief.

‘It was taking me 40 minutes or so to clean the table before I started practice, even though no one was really on it. The cloth, cushions, rails, balls, it was a ball ache. So now I’ve just been getting my cue out and playing, which is nice.’

Helping Hamilton through this trickiest of years is a positive attitude he forced himself to adopt since he turned 40-years-old.

There is nothing complicated to the plan, Anthony just chooses to look on the bright side of things when it comes to snooker, which he feels anyone can replicate.

The former German Masters champion knows that the unwavering positivity doesn’t necessarily come naturally to him, so he holds a cliched image of an ultra-cheery American in his mind for him to take on while at the table.

‘The most underused part of coaching in snooker is the mental side, everyone thinks about the cue action and stuff, but I’ve realised myself in the last eight or nine years, I’ve started skinning the cat in a different way,’ Anthony said.

‘I can’t possibly play good snooker anymore, but I can make up the deficit with better thought patterns and positivity.

‘Jesus Christ, I can’t believe how much you can get out of just doing the right things mentally. I just came up with it myself, I took things on board from years ago when I was coached by Terry Griffiths, but it’s mainly doing the hard work.

‘People don’t realise how hard it is to do the right things when things aren’t going your way, it’s not human nature to think positive when things are negative all the time, but that’s the only way to be if  you want to get out of the bad situation.

I’ve taught myself to do the right things while I’m out there in the match, there is literally no point in being disappointed during the match because that’s not going to get me a result.

‘I can be as disappointed as I want in the car on my way home, but while I’m out there, stay positive, even if I’m getting pumped, you never know. Honestly, it didn’t take long for matches to start turning my way.

‘I wish I’d done this when I was a good player. If I’d done that in my 20s and 30s, before I’d got injured, I think I’d be retired on a beach somewhere now.

‘It’s no more complicated than just deciding to be positive. I equate it to being American, everything’s great all the time, I just tell myself to be American.

‘I’ve just missed the black off the spot, don’t worry everything’s great, what’s next? It’s gone. It works and it works immediately.’

2018 D88 German Masters - Day One
Hamilton reached two ranking quarter-finals last season (Picture: Getty Images)

Hamilton has been struggling with neck problems for years, which means he cannot produce the snooker he did in the past, but his American alter-ego keeps him very competitive.

‘The more you do it the more it works,’ he said. ‘Before you know it you’ve turned four or five matches around in a year that you never would have won in a million years.

‘It makes you feel invincible. Even if you get beat you can feel happy because you know there’s nothing more you could have done. It’s when you come away and you know you’ve let your head drop in the middle of a match, then you drive home and you hate yourself because you know you could have given a bit more.

‘It’s the same as practicing the physical part of the game, you have to keep doing it all the time because it’s unnatural to be positive all the time, especially someone who’s realistic and cynical.

‘I just take on the American persona while I’m playing, everything’s great, then on the way home, go back to British and call myself a s**t c**t then. It works immediately, I love it.’

The four-time World Championship quarter-finalist has no intention of hanging his cue up any time soon and is still ranked #46 in the world, despite his troubles with Covid over the last 12 months.

However, he is eyeing up a new string to add to his bow, in the commentary box.

The Sheriff feels some snooker commentators can be too critical and not analytical enough, and he is keen to bring his own style to the gig.

‘Hopefully in the future I’m going to be commentating,’ he said. ‘I was supposed to do some commentary before Covid for Eurosport, so hopefully it will happen again.

‘Some of the commentators have lost all empathy, it’s like everyone has to play at Judd Trump’s level all the time, but no, woah, woah, woah, it’s not that easy. You know it’s not that easy!

‘I’m hopefully going to bring a bit more empathy. If someone is blatantly not putting it in then slag them off, but no one needs to be slagged off for trying their best.’

International Championship 2016 - Day 3
Hamilton has been a pro since 1991 and has reached a high of number 10 in the rankings (Picture: Getty Images)

Hamilton wants to see more analysis of technique and the technical side of the game, which he feels is missing, especially on BBC coverage of the sport.

‘I prefer Eurosport, it’s the home of snooker now, really,’ he said. ‘I watch some American sport, because I’m interested, and they don’t commentate for people like me, they commentate for people that have been watching the sport since they were kids.

‘It’s my job to catch up with the sport, not for them to dumb it down for me. That’s why I like Eurosport, they go a bit more in depth, but I still think some people are being patronised.

‘[Alan] McManus is really good, sometimes he’ll explain something and I’ll be applauding, thinking, “thank God, someone’s finally explained it.”

‘I saw a BBC pundit about three years back at the UK Championship and he said to me: “Alright Ant? I didn’t know you were still playing.”

‘I’d made it to the semi-finals of the European Masters a few weeks before, a full ranking tournament. That’s the BBC for you, it’s lazy.’

Hamilton heads to the WST Pro Series on Sunday looking for his first win of the season and, although he knows Covid and his neck could both hamper him over a long day of seven matches, he is looking forward to competing again.

‘We’ll see how I do physically because it’s a long day,’ he said. ‘It’ll be nice to play, it’s always nice to play snooker,

‘Best of three is a bit weird, we’ll see how it goes, but I’m well up for it. I’m always up for it, I’m the archetypal pro.

‘Play some snooker, nick a bit of dough, hopefully qualify, but if not, I’ll be trying my best.

‘Seven matches, win or lose, I’ve just been playing a few frames in practice, so to play a few frames is great, to play a few matches back-to-back is gold dust!’

Anthony as always not afraid to tell the truth. I can’t understand why some dislike the guy. He’s a great person.

Coming to the “answers on twitter” thing I picked this…

HamiltonOnRonnie-1HamiltonOnRonnie-2HamiltonOnRonnie-3

So much for the usual Ronnie bashing attempt.

The other player who has been in the news over the last days is if course Yan Bingtao.

I picked this article by the Shanghai Daily

Snooker prodigy motivated by filial love

YAN Bingtao has risen from a poor working-class background and playing to support his cancer-stricken mother to become China’s latest sporting prodigy.

The 20-year-old snooker star stunned four-time world champion John Higgins 10-8 to claim the prestigious Masters title last Sunday at England’s Milton Keynes, becoming the tournament’s youngest winner in 26 years. It was world number 11 Yan’s first major title and he is just a year older than Ronnie O’Sullivan was in 1995 when he won the Masters at 19, also beating Higgins.

“I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t win at least one or two world titles,” O’Sullivan, a six-time world champion, said.

Nicknamed “The Chinese Tiger,” Yan’s roaring triumph in his Masters debut is the culmination of a long struggle which at times seemed destined to end in a heart-breaking whimper.

He was born in Zibo, in China’s eastern province of Shandong, on February 16, 2000 and his first taste of holding a cue was on a rickety outdoor billiards table when he was 7 years old.

“I remember that it was uneven, there were leaves in the corners and the white ball went in a strange way,” the state-run People’s Daily quoted him as saying last year.

But Yan had talent and hoping that his boy had a future in the sport, his father Yan Dong quit his job at a pharmaceutical factory.

Against the advice of friends and family, the pair left home and Yan quit school aged 8 or 9 so they could pursue his snooker dreams in Beijing.

“To save money my father and I rented a room in the suburbs with just a bed and desk, costing 280 yuan (US$45) a month,” Yan said.

They could not afford heating and it was so cold that they wore their coats indoors, Yan once told Chinese media.

Father and son struggled to make ends meet and they admitted defeat, returning home to Zibo.

According to some accounts, the family sold most of their possessions to fund Yan’s career.

In 2013 they were plunged into crisis when Yan’s mother, the family bread-winner, was diagnosed with rectal cancer and needed an operation.

Earning the money to fund his mother’s recovery motivated him to enter more and more tournaments.

‘Never give up’

At 13, with his reputation on the rise, Yan began competing as a wildcard at professional events.

A year later, in 2014, Yan became the youngest winner of the World Amateur Snooker Championship.

He has been on a sharp upward trajectory since, turning professional in 2015, moving to England to further his career and capturing his first ranking title in Riga, Latvia in 2019.

Sheffield-based Yan collected 250,000 pounds (US$340,000) with his Masters triumph — the biggest payday of his fledgling career — and is widely praised for his dedication and hard work.

He is prime among a number of upcoming Chinese players and touted in domestic media as the successor to 33-year-old Ding Junhui, who has long been the country’s best player and an inspiration to Yan.

Many observers, including O’Sullivan, highlighted the new champion’s poise and maturity in storming back from behind to stun Higgins. At 45, the Scot is old enough to be Yan’s father.

In a touching denouement, Yan’s girlfriend translated his post-match interview into English on television.

But Yan’s thoughts inevitably soon turned to the two people who gambled everything for him.

“My mum and dad were watching on TV, they probably didn’t sleep tonight,” Yan said.

“They have always told me to never give up and to enjoy my life.”

No wonder that Yan is so mature and hard working. He deserves every success he gets.