For as long as he can remember, Luca Brecel has dreamed of potting the final balls to win one of snooker’s biggest tournaments.
Brecel is particularly looking forward to the European Masters in Lommel
That became reality earlier this month for the Belgian when he beat Shaun Murphy 10-5 to capture the Evergrande China Championship crown. It was a huge breakthrough for the 22-year-old who had been tipped for greatness since his junior days.
“I’ve had so many dreams where I won my first ranking title, then I would wake up and realise it wasn’t true, and I would feel sick,” said Brecel a few days later as he reflected on his success. “Now it’s real, but it still feels a bit unreal. It was such a tough week because you have to prepare for every match every day and you have to sleep well. When it’s over, it’s such a relief because the pressure is finally gone and it’s an amazing feeling.”
Lifting that intense pressure in between matches and sessions was a crucial factor in Brecel’s victory in Guangzhou. Following the example of Claudio Ranieri, who treated his Leicester footballers to pizza when they kept a clean sheet en route to Premier League glory, Brecel’s manager Django Fung used a similar tactic.
Brecel recalls: “Usually I don’t eat pizza much, but I often eat it in China. When I was 3-1 down against Ronnie O’Sullivan, during the interval Django told me that if I won we would go for pizza, and if I lost we would go for Japanese. That made me even more determined to win! After that we did the same every match.”
Brecel emphasises the importance of finding ways to take his mind off snooker when he’s not at the table. He’s a dedicated fan of hip hop; among the myriad of tattoo ink covering his arms is a portrait of rapper The Game.
“I love hip hop and listen to it all the time, but actually between the two sessions of the final I listened to the soundtrack of Braveheart,” said Brecel. “I absolutely love it and it kept me calm, because I was nervous. I also watched a bit of Alex Agnew who is a Belgian stand-up comedian.
“I stayed calm until it got to 9-5, then I got edgy because I knew I only needed one more frame. But I managed to control myself. I knew I would get chances to win and it was up to me to take one.”
Along with the trophy came a cheque for £150,000. But Brecel insists that he is not motivated by the vast financial rewards now available at the top of his sport.
“I have never played snooker for the money,” he said. “It’s a nice bonus and great to win that much. But I’m not going to buy a car or anything.”
In the past he has worn designer shoes and watches while playing matches, but recently wrote on his Facebook page: “I decided to stop wearing expensive branded clothing and all other expensive stuff” and criticised “people who are obsessed with money or materialism.”
Looking to the future, armed with an improving tactical game and a huge injection of confidence, Brecel feels his maiden title could be the first of many.
“I have always believed that I can win a lot of tournaments, but now I have got one I believe that even more,” said the world number 15, who looks set for debuts at the Champion of Champion and the Dafabet Masters in the coming months.
“This season I have practised more consistently, without taking any days off. I used to take a week off sometimes to relax, now I just keep going. I seem to come back stronger from defeats. Losing to Marco Fu at the Crucible (10-9 having led 7-1) was tough to take, but at the start of this season I believed in myself. My focus is better.”
Coming soon into Brecel’s cross hairs is the European Masters in Lommel, the first ranking event in his homeland for 23 years.
“I’m looking forward to that even more, to play in front of the Belgian fans, now as a ranking event winner,” he said with his infectious smile. “It’s great timing. I hope the fans will be loud and screaming for me because that’s what I like, and hopefully I can do well for them. The venue is fantastic and there will be a lot of good players there.”
World Champion Mark Selby, defending champion Judd Trump, John Higgins and Neil Robertson will be among the other top stars in Lommel for the tournament which runs from October 2 to 8.
Tickets are on sale now and start at just 15 Euros, with fans urged to book fast. For all details click here.