'Nothing like taking a trophy home!'

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Just wanted to let the dust settle for a few days before dropping a few thoughts down on last week's action at the Ladbrokes World Grand Prix.



Firstly I just want to say what a lovely time I had there and I was made to feel so welcome by everyone that I came into contact with. Having lived not a million miles away from Llandudno in Manchester for many years until recently, it’s a place I've been to many times and, as I said in the media during the tournament, driving along the north coast of Wales always brings back lots of memories for us snooker players. All those qualifying matches at Pontins in Prestatyn over the years come flooding back to you, the highs and lows of it all. It’s been some journey so far... 


Anyway, down to the snooker. It was a tough enough start playing Michael White. I really think that Michael is going to be around for a long time to come and with his back-to-back wins last season in the Shootout and the Indian Open, is now a force to be reckoned with. For whatever reason he played slightly below par on the day and I managed to pick up the pieces to set up a clash with the man in-form Martin Gould. With his recent win in the German Masters still at the forefront of everyone’s mind, Martin has now become the real deal. A proven winner, he is someone who likes to play a similar attacking game to me. We both had our moments in the game but in the end I came through pretty unscathed to face Liang Wenbo. Now for some reason over the years, Liang has become a bit of a bogey player for me. I’ve lost matches to him that I should’ve won, but recently I’ve started to turn the tide. Of course the one thing that losing so many times to him in the past has taught me is that you have to start well and be on your toes from the off. I think I did that quite well on the day and didn’t really make any glaring mistakes so was always going to be tough to beat. We’re actually playing each other next week in Manchester at the Players Tour Championship so I’ll be careful not to say too much but to reach the semi-finals of an event like the World Grand Prix and only drop the one frame in doing so was something I was very proud of.


Into the semi-finals then and I knew that all that was going to change, No one beats Ding easily these days and from a fellow professional's point of view, it’s great to see him returning to the type of form we all know he’s capable of. His 147 at the Welsh Open in Cardiff a few weeks ago served notice to us all that he’s back. Not that he really went away in the first place though. This time 18 months ago he was winning five ranking events in one season, so for anyone to say he was having a slump takes some guts. Very few people in the game win more than five ranking events in a lifetime so Ding's class isn’t to be forgotten. Anyway, I knew that it would be a tough game in all areas. Although I started slowly, very slowly actually, I eventually found my form and from 3-3 never really looked back. It’s funny what goes through your mind though out there in the arena. I started that match so poorly that at one point I actually thought the table fitters had moved the pockets! I hit three or four shots in the first frame that I thought were in when I hit them and they didn’t even trouble the pocket. Oh dear, I thought, this could be a short game. But from somewhere I managed to remember how to make the balls disappear and as the match went on, I started to feel stronger.


And so into the final, and wouldn’t you know it, I was facing Mr Bingham again. It’s really funny how the draws can produce repeat fixtures so often. Some players hardly ever have to play each other, whereas others always seem to be matched together. It was our first meeting since the World Championship Final last year in May and of course the only thing people wanted to talk about prior to the match was revenge. It always amazes me to hear what people think we as players are thinking about. We’re far too busy out there concentrating on what shot to play, where to leave the cueball etc. to be thinking about revenge, and snooker isn’t like a lot of sports. When Stuart is at the table there isn’t a thing I can do about it so what’s the point in worrying about getting one back on each other? All you can do is go out there as prepared as you can be, try your best and hope that you reach the winning score before the other man. It’s taken me a long time to learn that I’m not in control of whether I win or lose. Unlike sports like golf or darts, in snooker I have to play my shots from where the opponent leaves the cueball and so what they do, directly influences my choices and takes away my control of the situation. In fact when you realise that you’re not in control of the outcome, it releases so much tension and anxiety you can just play with freedom and enjoy the game.


Of course, even with knowing that and having the freedom to just go out and play, it’s still tough. In the end neither of us scored like we had all week or shown before, but there were still lots of good shots and tension for the crowds. Maybe we were guilty of trying too hard - whatever that means, or wanting to win too badly. I was definitely pleased to see the interval at 4-5. For the first time all week I’d let things out of my control start to affect me. In almost every frame in the final there were things happening that only us as the players on the table could see. Little kicks that were throwing the balls offline or out of position, big bounces off cushions that were ruining our intended positions and other little things all got to me. It became so frustrating that at 4-2 ahead I was playing as if I was 0-6 behind. I really didn’t want to be there. But I’d done it to myself.


We suffer with kicks and bad bounces in every match, at every venue and at every tournament around the world. But it’s only when they start to cost you that you begin to worry about it. The biggest problem is what it does to your mind. It becomes so frustrating and that you end up focussing on that rather than the game itself, that’s what happened to me. After the interval I came back a different player and with the finishing line in sight started to feel better and better. Having said all that, it still took two of my best shots to get going in the last frame. The red I potted into the green pocket that started my winning break was a a shot that I don’t think I would’ve seen or played a few seasons ago. It was a way of going for the win without potentially sacrificing the match. Ray Reardon once told that my biggest problem was that I played too many shots that could be my last. I think I’m starting to learn the difference now. Of course none of that might’ve happened if Stuart hadn’t have had a huge slice of bad luck in frame 15. In the balls and with a chance to steal the frame, Stuart suffered a massive kick on the black when trying to move the final red into play. Having had the kick and with the black ball now bouncing its way into the pocket it struck the back of the pocket on the volley and ended up jumping back onto the bed of the table. A terribly unlucky time of misfortune and completely out of his control. Another example of a kick changing a game.


There’s nothing like taking the trophy home. It doesn’t matter whether you win 10-0 or 10-9 on a re-spotted black. As they say in golf, there are no pictures on a score card and thankfully the footage of my mistakes in the final last week can all be deleted from my Sky+ box! Winning another ranking event and drawing level with Ken Doherty and Mark Selby on six each on the all-time list was also very pleasing and I hope I can now go on and try to win more. I’ve been back on the practice table this week with a new tip that’ll hopefully see me through to the end of the season and with three big tournaments to go, it’s a great time to have found my best form of the season. I’m really looking forward to playing next week in Manchester at the Player Championship especially as I lived there for so long and have all my family there too. Hopefully they’ll be like the 12th man in football. It promises to be another great week of snooker on ITV4 and if you can’t be there in person, make sure you catch it on TV, I know I will.


I must quickly say thanks to you all for all the messages I received last week on Twitter, Facebook email etc. Your support means the world to me and I appreciate every single one of them.
Until next time,




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