I've just about recovered from the Jet-lag of coming home so I thought it was a good time to update the blog.
It feels so good to have won a major ranking event again after so long. There have been times, some quite recently, when I've seriously doubted whether I could actually win again. But since the Masters I've had a real turn around in form. First in Poland then Crondon and once again last week in Hainan on the Island of Haikou.
Going there I knew I was in good form as I've continued practising hard with my coach Chris Henry. My first match there was against Jimmy White and naturally that was difficult in itself. Jimmy is one of the games true legends and so any time you play someone like him you have to mind your work carefully.
Preparing for my next match against Mark King the following day, disaster struck. I was playing a deep screw shot from black to yellow and miscued horribly. Straight away I knew I was in trouble. For the first time in my entire snooker career my tip was completely ruined. With a little over two hours before the start of play I had to choose, file, glue and practise with a new tip. Usually, it's nice to have a few days to knock a new tip in before competing with it but there was none of that for me. I must pay credit to the tournament director last week too - Martin Clark. World Snooker always provide a 'tip box' on tour, full of all the things needed to repair or replace a tip if needs be, and, if like me also, you'd forgotten to take your own tipping equipment. Mine was in the back of my car in Manchester. Martin told me later in the week that it was only by chance, just before flying out there himself, he'd remembered that he needed to refill the box with new tips and glue and so he'd gone to his local club to get the supplies. What if he hadn't? I would have been in serious trouble then, so thanks Martin.
Because of the new tip, I probably spent more time than anyone in the practise rooms last week and I think that helped me get used to it better and adjust to the playing conditions which are always tough in that part of the world. The dampness and humidity affect the cloth and the balls so much that it makes basic shots very difficult and escaping from snookers a bit of a lottery.
After that I beat Ding, Graeme Dott and Mark Allen on my way to the final but it's important to say that lady luck was definitely on my side. After eight high quality frames against Dott, I fluked the final black to win 5-4, and then Mark Allen unluckily went in off the black to give me the win 6-4 in the semi final.
In the final it was my old mate Mark Selby who recently has given me some good hidings that's for sure. The 2012 UK final, the 2013 China Open semi and 2014 Masters semi to name just three, so I knew only too well I'd have to be at my best to stand a chance.
Fortunately I started well and took the first four frames to lead 4-0 at the break. After that Mark capitalised on a couple of errors that I made but once I tightened my game up I took the session 7-2.
Coming out for the final session where the match would be won or lost I knew Mark would come out fighting, and he did. Three frames into the night session and the wheels were coming off, but I managed to take the fourth of the evening to steady the ship at 8-5. On resumption Mark carried on the fightback to 8-6 and looked like winning another but somehow I stole the frame putting me to within one for victory. I felt I played solidly enough in the final frame but Mark came back needing three or four snookers at that point and taking it all the way to the final pink, which after a long long time, I managed to roll home for the win.
I was so relieved after the win. It's been so hard watching others win these last few years and thinking that I used to be able to do that. But now I've done it again, who knows? One thing is for sure, I won't be taking my foot off the gas. It's full steam ahead now to the end of the season and there a three massive events still to come.
Next week sees the start of the Players Tour Championship in Preston. It's been a long season so far, lets see if we can finish it off in style.
Until next time,