Former barman Duane Jones had the best season of his career in 2018-19 and he’s determined to build on that success.
The 26-year-old from Mountain Ash in Wales reached the semi-finals of the German Masters in February, knocking out the likes of Jack Lisowski and Ding Junhui before his run was ended by David Gilbert. Jones also scored a memorable win over Judd Trump on his way to the last 32 of his home tournament, the Welsh Open.
And having started the current season with a 6-4 win over Lyu Haotian to qualify for the final stages of next month’s International Championship, Jones is full of optimism.
“In terms of belief levels, last season has done me the world of good,” said the former Welsh under-16 captain, who first turned pro in 2015. “I feel like a snooker player now, whereas before I was questioning myself. I want to be in the top 64 within the next two years. I don’t want to be scrapping around to just try to keep my place on the tour. I’m grateful that I kept my place last season, but I don’t want to be in that position again.”
Jones had previously worked in a bar to earn extra income to support his career on the baize, but has found that dedicating himself to snooker has improved his performances and results.
“I was working late at night in the bar,” he said. “Four or five nights a week until 1am. I wouldn’t get to bed until 2.30am. The lads I practise with would want a game at 10am and I found that very difficult. When I did that I was so tired it felt pointless. Now I’m playing full time I have been able to put so much more quality work in.
“When I first packed in the bar work and practised more, I didn’t really get any results in the first few months. It was quite deflating. But my recent performances have been a confidence booster. I’m just going to work as hard as I can and see where it takes me. I am sure now that putting everything into snooker was the right decision.”
Jones practises with the likes of Ryan Day and Mark Williams, and has benefited from their influence. “I am within a 30 mile radius of all of the Welsh lads,” he said. “Where I am based in South Wales is right in the thick of it. Most of them are higher ranked than me and I have learned so much from them.
“I actually shared a room with Ryan during the German Masters. Being around these people can only do you good, because they have achieved so much. I try to soak in the advice and experience that they have.”
His run in Germany came at one of the circuit’s best venues – the Tempodrom in Berlin. A crowd of nearly 3,000 watched his semi-final clash with Gilbert, and though Jones lost 6-1, it was a day he’ll never forget.
“It was brilliant,” he said. “I’ve never qualified for the Crucible and I’ve never played at the Masters, but so far the Tempodrom is by far the best place. It was frightening and electric – it gave me goosebumps. Even though the result wasn’t going my way, I was just looking around trying to take it all in. I had a great week and I just want to be able to go and do it again. When you have a little taste of it and a flavour of the one table set-up, you just want to be in that position again. It gives me the motivation to make sure I am getting into those positions. There are days when you don’t want to come in to practise, but when you have been on a run like that you have an example of why it is worth it.
“I didn’t play well in that semi-final and that was understandable, but it was great experience. To beat Judd in Cardiff in front of a good crowd was also special. I probably had more recognition around South Wales after that than I did for reaching the semis in Berlin, because of all the extra media interviews and the press I got in Cardiff. It was nice to come into the club and the lads had all read about me beating Judd.
“I recognise that I need to be more consistent, because apart from those two runs, I didn’t get many results last season and it was only the £20,000 I earned in Germany which kept me on the tour. So one of my main goals this season is to find more consistency in my game.”