Long recognised as one of the best players not to have won a ranking event, Martin Gould made his breakthrough at last month’s German Masters in Berlin. And he believes it will be the first of many…
Gould faces Judd Trump in the first round of this week’s Ladbrokes Players Championship in Manchester – for ticket details click here
Age 34, Gould is something of a late developer. In fact he quit snooker for several years in his early 20s after his mother Shirley died of cancer. He returned to the pro game in 2007 and his natural talent flourished as he climbed rapidly up the rankings.
In 2010 Gould reached the last 16 of the World Championship and would have gone further if he had avoided a 13-12 defeat against Neil Robertson, having given up leads of 6-0 and 11-5.
During the 2012/13 season the Londoner won three trophies: a PTC event, the Power Snooker Masters and the one frame Shoot Out.
And he’s now in the best form of his career, having triumphed in Germany last month, winning six matches to reach the final before seeing off Luca Brecel 9-5 to take the 80,000 Euro top prize.
“It has sunk in now and it’s a great feeling to know I have won a ranking event,” said Gould. “Since then I have felt a different player, with no nerves and no twitchiness when I’m getting over the line in matches. A lot of the players have come to shake my hand and congratulate me and a few have said it was about time I won a big one because I had been knocking on the door for a long time. It means a lot when you get recognition from your fellow pros.
“When I got home from Berlin I had so many messages on my phone and on Facebook that it took me weeks to reply to all of them. There are a lot of big tournaments coming up so it’s time to put Berlin behind me and concentrate on what’s coming.”
In fact Gould has already kicked on from his Berlin victory and reached the final of the Gdynia Open at the end of February. Though he was denied the trophy by Mark Selby, his run earned him a place at the Ladbrokes Players Championship, and saw him climb to 13th in the world rankings.
“I have always felt I am good enough to be in the top 16, and hopefully this time I can stay in there longer,” he said. “I have to keep doing the right things, try to win more tournaments and move towards the top eight. If I can get to number one at some point in my career that would be great, but at the moment my goal is to consolidate in the top 16, which is not easy because the strength in depth in the game now is phenomenal.”
He is particularly determined to be in that bracket when the seeding axe falls for the World Championship after the China Open in April. All players outside the top 16 will have to win three matches to reach the Crucible.
“I’ve played in the qualifiers for the last three years and it is brutal,” he said. “It’s the toughest week of snooker of the season. I think the first round is harder than the last round because there is so much riding on it. If you lose you get nothing and you finish the season on a real low note, whereas if you win that first game at least you are guaranteed £6,000.
“Last year I lost to an amateur, Adam Duffy, in the first round. He played me at my own game and nearly everything he went for was flying in. It was a bitter pill to swallow. In a way it did me a favour because it made me work really hard on the practice table over the next few weeks while the World Championship was on. So I was very sharp for the start of the new season and straight away got to the final of the Australian Open, and I have since kicked on from there. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise.”
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Gould certainly appreciates how lucky he is to play snooker for a living, and earn huge sums of money for it, having grafted to make ends meet in his teens and early 20s. Prior to working as a croupier, he was a kitchen assistant at Harrow School. “I was mainly washing up and helping the chefs out,” he recalls.” It wasn’t badly paid, I think it was £1,200 a month which was good when I was 17. I worked a lot of weekends which I didn’t mind, and I was with people I could have a laugh with. I did the job for a year then got sacked after my mum fell ill. I needed to take time off to look after her and they weren’t very understanding or pleasant about it. One day I got a letter through the post with my P45 in it – they didn’t even have the courtesy to tell me to my face. I wrote them a letter complaining about the way I had been treated, and in the end they apologised and gave me an extra month’s pay. When I first got on to the snooker tour, I wasted a lot of money because I’d never seen so much before in my bank account. I went a bit mad. Then my mum passed away and I suddenly I had to look after myself. For three or four years I had to scrimp and save every penny. After paying rent and bills, I was living on £15 a week. It was a low quality of life and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. It was a very difficult time and I couldn’t afford to play snooker – you can’t go to a tournament knowing you have to win a match just to pay your rent. I didn’t play for several years until a friend persuaded me to start playing again and gave me some backing. I really appreciate the money now and I’m very careful with it because I know how hard life can be without it.”