It has been a few weeks now since I played in the World Championship so I have time to reflect on my Crucible experience. I was gutted that it took me so long to settle down against Mark Selby. I had chances in the first four frames but my high break was only 14. At 5-0 down I was just praying that I wouldn't lose 10-0. That definitely went through my mind.
I fought back well after that and finished the first session 6-3 down, then won the first frame of the second session to make it 6-4, and at that stage it was 'game on'. But Mark played better than me after that and I lost 10-4. If I had started the match well I feel as if I would have had a great chance to win.
Overall, despite the result it was the best experience of my snooker career so far. So many had people told me what a great arena the Crucible is, but it was still five times better than I expected. I just can't wait to get back and play there again.
After the World Championship I had two weeks off. I played a bit of golf but I have put the clubs away now to concentrate on the snooker season. I haven't been away, in fact I haven't been on holiday since 2008. My view is that life is one long holiday!
I have just moved clubs and had my table put into Rayleigh Lanes Snooker Club in Essex, the owner there has been really good and told me I can practise there whenever I want. Stuart Bingham is based there so I will be playing with him a lot. He is number six in the world now so there can't be many better players to practise with. Stuart tries 100 per cent on every shot in practice no matter what the score is, which shows what a good professional he is.
I have got some targets for this season, although I prefer not to say what they are at this stage. I have seen other players not far above me in the rankings achieve great things, like Barry Hawkins who was No 28 in the world not along ago, then went on to win the Australian Open and get to the final at the Crucible. That gives me the motivation to do something similar myself. I have been working with my coach Chris Henry and hopefully it won't be long before I get into my stride.
This week the new system for ranking events is coming into effect at the Wuxi Classic qualifiers. I'm playing Chen Zhe in my first match tonight. Just in the first session this morning, players likes Gareth Green, John Astley and Scott Donaldson qualified for the final stages in China. It's great to see new faces and if they win they get to go to a proper venue and earn prize money much more quickly than they did under the old system. That must be a good thing and it's only the greedy minority who disagree.
There are things I don't agree with, particularly changes which have been made to the round structure of the tournaments which are not going to a flat draw, including the World Championship. There was a players' meeting in Gloucester today so I had the chance to give my views.
All the best for now and hopefully I can get off to a winning start!
"On the Sunday before the World Championship started, I beat Ken Doherty 10-9 in the last qualifying round to reach the Crucible for the first time. I was doing some interviews after the match and it started to sink in. It's my biggest achievement in snooker so far, bigger than getting to the quarter-finals in Australia for each of the last two years. My dream in the sport is to win a tournament so I'm a long way short of that, but it's a big step in the right direction. I was on twitter the next day and I saw a picture of the Crucible being set up for the tournament, and it gave me butterflies just thinking about the fact that I'm going to walk down those steps into the arena.
Funnily enough the first time I watched the World Championship on TV was the year Ken won it - in 1997 when I was 12. After that I was glued to it year after year. I started practising with Mark King and I went to see him play at the Crucible in 2001 - and since then I've been many times to watch, seeing my heroes and wondering what it would be like to play there myself. It's such a compact venue and you are so close to your opponent. I know a lot of players struggle on their debuts there and I've got to concentrate on the job and keep in mind that I'm there to win the match. I know if I play well then I can compete.
I was pleased to draw Mark Selby despite the fact that he's world number one and a fantastic player. His strengths are tactics and safety and I don't mind getting stuck in. There are few players better tactically than Ken and I managed to beat him. I learned a lot about myself during that match. I was 9-4 up and felt as if I was going to win comfortably, then Ken fought back to 9-9 and I was under a lot of pressure. But I played a good deciding frame and got the job done.
Ken wished me luck after the match which was good of him because I could see he was hurting. In a way it's better to lose 10-4 then 10-9. He is a good friend of mine and I'm sure I will chat to him at the Crucible. I want to ask him about the match and how he feels I can improve. I've been around for a few years and I'm 28 now but I still feel as if I have a lot to learn in the game. The first time I qualified for a venue I played John Higgins in Shanghai and he beat me 5-2. After we'd signed the match sheet I ran after him and asked him if he had any advice for me. I did the same after I played Stephen Hendry for the first time.
I'm really looking forward to next season and hoping I can climb the rankings. My view about the structure of the game is that the way it is now makes it very difficult to climb to the top because the players at the bottom have to win four matches just to get to a venue. Those at the top - the likes of Neil Robertson, Mark Selby, Shaun Murphy, Stephen Maguire, Ding Junhui, Mark Allen and Judd Trump - are among the best players the game has ever seen. And the fact that they are seeded through to every venue makes it so tough for anyone else to get into the top 16. The new system we will see for most tournaments next season, with everyone starting in round one, will make it easier for talented players to come through faster.
Earlier this season I took a break from snooker, for the first time in years I just didn't want to play. I got very good at golf but my snooker suffered. I got my hunger back in the new year and now I've got a couple of good results. I'm not the type of player, like Robertson, who doesn't have to practise that much, I know I need to work hard on my game. My old manager Robbo Brazier used to drum into me how important it was to practise for hour after hour, he always talked about how much solo work Steve Davis did during his hey-day. I've learned that lesson now and I intend to keep it up."
For the last few weeks I've had my head down, practising to be ready for the Betfair World Championship qualifiers. I have been driving from Romford to Cambridge every day to play at the club there. I've spent three days a week doing four or five hours on my own, then on the other days I've had matches against the likes of Jamie O'Neill, Joe Perry and Stuart Bingham.
It has been great to have high quality practice partners and I feel as if my game is in good shape. I beat Bingham 5-4 and Perry 10-7 though of course it's all about taking that form to the match table. I'm enjoying it and I feel as if I can do some damage in the tournament.
When the draw was released on Monday I realised I could be playing Jamie O'Neill in my first match, but the fact that we've been practising together doesn't really make much difference. I remember a few years ago I drew Liu Song in a tournament, who was one of my practice partners at the time. I asked Ronnie O'Sullivan whether I should stop playing him, and Ronnie said no, I should practise with him more, bash him up and make him think he can't beat me!
Jamie has got Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon in his first match with the winner to play Mike Dunn, then I'll play the winner of that. Any of the three of them could come through but I think I'm most likely to play Thanawat. I played him in the UK Championship and won 6-4 but it wasn't a very good game. If I can win my opening match I'll play Ken Doherty to qualify, Ken is a good mate of mine. I'm trying not to look any further than my first match but to qualify for the Crucible would be amazing, it has been one of my ambitions to play there since I was a child. It's one of the few venues I haven't played at and there is so much history there.
I have seen good friends of mine like David Gilbert and Jimmy Robertson play there in recent years and that has given me the hunger to qualify myself. It's a massive tournament.
I watched some of the China Open last week. I really enjoyed Neil Robertson's semi-final against Stephen Maguire, the standard was phenomenal, it was really blow for blow and Neil got through 6-5. I didn't watch much of the final, it looked like a really tough match. I read Shaun Murphy's comments about Mark Selby after he lost in the semi-finals and I thought he was spot on. Mark is a ridiculously good player and number one in the world but he seems to have a way of bringing the worst out of his opponents.
Next week I'll be watching the Masters, the first golf major of the year. It's hard to see anyone beating Tiger Woods, his ball striking is as good as it's ever been and his putting is back. He has won a couple of big events recently and when he's winning he makes all of the other players look ordinary. When he's on form there are not many players who can live with him. One of them was Rory McIlroy, but I think he has sacrificed his chance to become the greatest player ever by taking a massive pay day and switching to Nike equipment. At the end of last season he was on fire and won the USPGA by eight shots. Now he has changed clubs, he is struggling with his game and he has jeopardised his chances. I can't see any of the British players winning it, though I think the two South Africans Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen both have a chance. And for an outside bet I like Henrik Stenson.
Anyway, it's all about the World qualifiers now and hopefully in my next blog I'll have some good results to look back on.
All the best for now
Earlier this month I played in the Welsh Open qualifiers and beat Jordan Brown 4-1 in my first match then lost 4-2 to Stuart Bingham. Jordan is an amateur so it looked like a good draw but I know he's a very good player and he beat John Higgins earlier this season. I played well and made some good breaks although the scoreline flattered me a bit. Stuart was a tough draw as he's been one of the best players in the world this season, winning the Premier League and two APTCs. I practise with him so I know his game, and I beat him in Australia earlier this season, so I wasn't worried about playing him as I always enjoy taking on the top players.. It was a close match and could have gone either way but he did well to win and of course he ended up getting to the final.
I watched a lot of the Welsh Open on TV. Stuart probably should have won it in the end, he had a great chance to go 8-5 up in the final and the tournament was won and lost in that frame. He has been a prolific winner this year and he was pretty much flawless in the final, it was a phenomenal standard. But pressure gets to everyone and maybe it affected him towards the end. I was pleased in a way to see Maguire win because it has been a ridiculously long time since he won a ranking event. Back in 2004 when he won the UK Championship, I would have said he was a certainty to win the World Championship by now. He is back where he belongs now and he has a real chance in Sheffield this year.
The standard of snooker in Newport was very high, everyone is making a lot of big breaks - Judd Trump already has over 50 centuries this season. I also enjoyed watching the Harlem Shake, it was one of the best things I've seen this season. At first I thought it was a joke and the footage had been messed around with!
Looking ahead to Sheffield, I think there are at least ten possible winners. John Higgins is still the best player in my eyes, although he has been struggling recently. Judd can blow people away, while Neil Robertson, Mark Selby and Ding Junhui have got to be strong contenders. But the player I think will win it is Ali Carter - he has been in two finals at the Crucible and both times he was up against Ronnie O'Sullivan at his best so he was never going to win. Next week we'll find out whether Ronnie has entered the event. Personally I think that he will enter, although even then there's no certainty that he will actually play. It will be great for the sport if he is there to defend his title. Perhaps if he wins it again he'll retire, who knows? In a way I think it's sad that he remains such a big talking point even when he's not playing, but I suppose it's because he's still the biggest name.
I really enjoyed the one-frame Shoot Out in Blackpool. I beat Graeme Dott - who got to the final last year - in the first round, then I played Stephen Maguire and I just couldn't handle the shot clock. I couldn't do anything other than run around the table and hit balls, and they were just never going to find the pockets. In my view, having a shot clock of 15 and 10 seconds is ludicrous, it's too short and it should go back to 20 and 15 seconds. But the fans love it and I suppose that's what it's all about. Plus the prize money was good, especially for Martin Gould who won £32,000 in a weekend.
I haven't qualified for either of the events in China coming up, so for me it's all about the World Championship. Obviously I would rather have got to at least one of the tournaments in China, but looking on the bright side it means I have five or six weeks of proper preparation for the World qualifiers, and I am getting down to some serious work. I practised hard before the Welsh Open qualifiers and I felt as if I was hitting the ball brilliantly. For two to three weeks I was playing four or five hours a day on my own. Players who say they practise seven hours a day are talking nonsense. The only one I know who works that hard is Selby. It would have been nice to win more matches but I felt as if my game was in a good place. So with another six weeks of hard work I will be ready.
Away from snooker, I have been following the fortunes of my football team Aston Villa. I don't think we'll be relegated although we're not out of the woods yet. I don't know what Paul Lambert is doing experimenting with inexperienced players as it's not worth jeopardising our place in the Premier League. Darren Bent can score 20 goals a season but he's sitting on the bench, while Christian Benteke plays every week and is very inconsistent. I just hope we can stay up and rebuild for next season.
I'll also be following the WGC World Matchplay Golf this weekend and I've had one or two bets. I think Tiger Woods is phenomenal value at 12/1, and I've had a first round treble on Woods, Luke Donald and Keegan Bradley. I have backed four winners over the past four weeks so I'm on a roll. It's not long until the first major of the season, The Masters. Shaun Murphy and I were talking about making the trip to Augusta one year. For £30,000 you can fly there first class, see all four days of action and then play the course the day after. I'm going to start saving!
All the best until next time.
Christmas and New Year this time around was just a mega relaxation period for me. I thought I'd take advantage of the little time off we get before a hectic year ahead. It was nice to see all my family again and spend some quality time with them.
Last month at our AGM in Sheffield, Barry Hearn talked about changes to the structures of tournaments next season, with all players to start in round one of eight of the 11 rankings events. My views are quite simple on the flatter structures: it's the best thing that could possibly happen to the sport. For me, where I am ranked, it makes no difference, as I have to win two matches now to get the last 32, as I would have to starting from round one in a draw of 128. But I do think it will make the game more appealing to younger players who actually want to become professional snooker players.
Players who come on the tour now have to win two matches to get very little money, but with a flat structure, they'll only have to win one, which is much fairer. I understand some top players aren't going to be thrilled with the decision, and that's understandable because they have worked extremely hard to get to the top of the game, and also they are sacrificing a lot if they are guaranteed zero prize money. But at the same time, if they are as good as their ranking suggests then I'm sure they'll have no problem keeping themselves at the top. Shaun Murphy hit the nail on the head when he said that, with a level playing field, we will see who the best players in the world are on current from, not on what they did two or three years ago.
Over Christmas and New Year I watched nearly all of the darts World Championship and firstly I must say that the match between Michael van Gerwen and Aidy Lewis was probably the best piece of sport I have ever seen. The standard of that game was phenomenal. I saw the epic final in 2007, which for drama will never be touched, but for actual standard and blow for blow attacks this one was amazing. It was just savage tungsten and a privilege to watch!
There were a lot of talking points during this year's tournament. Van Gerwen is the darts equivalent of Judd Trump if you like, people tune in to watch him go berserk and annihilate the treble 20. Then you had the game between Lewis and van Gerwen - Twitter and Facebook were going mental while that game was going on. And then how can we forget the bust up between Raymond van Barneveld and Phil Taylor.... I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw what happened on that stage. The first thing I thought was that The Power is bang out of order. It was the semi final of the World, there was a huge comeback from Barney, and then after hitting double 16, The Power shook everyone's hand on the stage before he shook Barney's. I mean come on, what's all that about!
Personally I thought Van Gerwen would win the final, but at the age of 27 I got taught a lesson: don't ever underestimate the greatest player in his sport! I didn't think Taylor, after watching him all tournament, had that kind of performance in him, especially at the age of 52. It really was a master class and the true meaning of watching a genius at work!
As far as sporting greats go, I doubt you will ever be able to find someone who dominates their sport the way that Taylor has done over the past 20 years. He has got to be a contender for the GREATEST sportsman of all time. I've definitely got him in my top three, just behind the great MJ Williams and J Trump!
I think rivalry is great for any sport, it gets people watching. In snooker, generally 99% of the players on tour are top people, mostly we have all grown up together so most of us know each other pretty well. You get the odd idiot here and there but that's to be expected in any walk of life.
My performances on the table in 2012 were pretty dire if I'm honest. It's going to be a year that I'm going to forget rather quickly. Getting to the quarter-finals in Australia was good, but apart from that I've been way below par. I don't think moving all over the place helped my cause, but ultimately my work ethic quite frankly has been pathetic. If Robbo Brazier (Steve Davis's old driver), who was like a father to me, saw how little work I'd done over the past six months then I'm pretty sure he would've given me a slap. I've got a lot of work to do for 2013, but there's no time like the present to start making amends.
For this year my ambitions are to just practise my socks off and prepare properly for every tournament, try my best and just see what happens. I'm sure there is a W inside me somewhere, just got to get it out!
Until next time folks, Happy New Year and keep it real.
The Selt x
I haven't done great in the PTC events this season and I'm pretty disappointed with the way my results have gone. I've played some tough matches but I still should have done a lot better and I've only MYSELF to blame. I do feel that all the travelling for the PTCs definitely affects my preparation for the major tournaments, but at the same time they're great for match practice and if you do well then the rewards are there to be had. Personally I'll be glad if the number of PTCs gets reduced so I can concentrate more on the major tournaments. They are very important though for the game to develop in Europe and the foreign ones this year have all been awesome, great venues, great tables and great crowds. It's amazing what Barry Hearn has done to the game so far and the opportunities have never been better, though myself and a few other players do question whether we still need the PTC events in England.
I've just played in the UK Championship and German Masters qualifiers. I probably played the worst I ever have against Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon and I thought I was going to be going home after my first match. But luckily for me Thanawat didn't play as well as he can and he let me off the hook on more than one occasion and I ended up winning 6-4. In the final qualifying round I lost to Ryan Day 6-3 but it wasn't a pretty game. I took the lead 1-0 and then had numerous chances over the next five frames but lost them all and it's a long way back from 1-5. The highlight of the match for me was making a 99 break in 3:38 seconds! I was just running around smashing the balls in. It's amazing what happens when you've resigned yourself to getting beat. The last frame was quite funny too, I found myself 50 odd down but had a chance to clear up, I potted the pink with the rest to split the reds and I could see a red heading towards the pocket, so as it dropped I just offered a hand shake to Ryan as I couldn't win. Overall Ryan deserved to win. I hope he goes on to have a good run in the rest of the tournament.
In the German qualifiers I played Robbie Williams first and won 5-3. I was quite happy with the way I played, my game was good even though I couldn't seem to make a 50 break, so it was more of a solid victory. The next game for me was the one that has hurt me the most as a professional. I played Marco Fu and it was an amazing match, I had 135, 88 and 65 to go 3-1 at the interval then Marco won a good fifth frame with a 66. In the sixth I was 40 up and Marco fluked a red and cleared up with 62. I was gutted, but somehow I managed to win the next with 57 after Marco missed a black in the balls. At 4-3 I had a great chance to win it but missed an easy red and Marco won the frame with an 87. In the decider I had another great chance but missed a black off the spot when I could have built a pretty big lead. It turned out that I lost it there and I felt absolutely sick. That game hurt me a lot but its been a while since I've been so gutted to lose, so I'm looking forward to the World Open qualifiers now in a few weeks to try and make amends!
When Judd Trump won the International Championship, a few people had a pop at me on Twitter and I'm not too sure why. I think it was his mate Ryan, the one who shouts out at every match he plays. I don't really speak to Judd any more which is a shame because we were good mates up until about a year ago, in fact the only reason he's in Essex is because I set him up with his manager Django and told him that Essex was the place for him to improve and that most of the top players are in that area. Anyway, after he beat Neil Robertson in the final and got to world number one I texted his dad Steve just to say 'congratulations', and the next thing I know I'm getting slated. I don't expect anything else from someone who's got a big mouth though.
It's great to see someone come in and take the game by storm in the way that Judd has, now that Ronnie O'Sullivan looks to have stopped playing for good. I just hope he handles the pressure well of being the next big thing. He's always had the talent.
I also had a few comments from Mark Williams, but I'm not too fussed what he has to say because I don't know too many people who listen to a man who still wears tracksuits at the age of 40. Come on Mark, what size jeans are you? I'll treat you for Christmas...
Over the past seven years or so I've got to know Ronnie very well. I never thought he'd ever have this amount of time off from playing. I thought he'd come back and play, especially at the World Championship, but as every day passes I think there's more chance that he won't. I'm a little gutted that he's stopped playing because EVERYONE wants to sit down and watch him in full flight. Luckily for me I had two to three years of playing him three or four times a week and I have learnt an awful lot from the man. He really is a genius and I hope he makes a return soon.
I've not really been up to much off the table, the golf clubs are away until the summer time now. It's time to get back to heavy practice and start to prepare for the World Championship. I haven't qualified for the Crucible yet, it's one of the few venues I haven't played at. But it's the main one that everyone wants to get to. Seeing a few of my close mates like Dave Gilbert and Jimmy Robertson qualify over the past couple of years has given me an extra bit of drive to try and get there this year. The way that my game is now, if I play well then there's no reason why I shouldn't be there in April...apart from the two tough opponents that will be in my way!
All the best until next time
Last month at UKPTC3 I lost 4-3 to Alan McManus on the final black, and after that I decided to put my cue away for a while. I didn't touch it for six weeks. Sometimes you just need a break from the game. I was supposed to go to the second APTC event but there's a lot of travelling on the tour and I felt low on energy so I decided to withdraw. Sometimes you put a lot of time into practice when you're doing something wrong that you don't know about. If you take a break then it re-sets your memory and you feel fresh when you come back. I have spent a lot of time over the years with Neil Robertson and he only practises as much as he needs to, and he is still able to produce great snooker at tournaments.
So I went into the PTC event in Antwerp last weekend feeling a lot fresher, and it paid off as I played really well in my first two matches. You can't beat the feeling of winning, and I have an appetite for the game now, looking ahead to the next two PTCs and the UK Championship qualifiers next month.
I beat Jamie Jones 4-0 then Ding Junhui 4-1. I rate Ding as one of the best players on the tour so it was really encouraging to totally outplay him, I have to put it down as one of my best wins. But in the third round I lost 4-0 to Jack Lisowski, he played very well.
Jack is one of a number of very good players on the tour at the moment aged in their early 20s. I think he needs to improve his shot selection, but he has a lot of talent and he has learned a lot from Judd Trump. I rate Michael White as the best player currently coming through the ranks. He had a few years on tour where he wasn't making much progress, but now suddenly he is qualifying for venues and doing well in the PTC events. It's great to see young players doing well, because for a long time there weren't many in that age bracket coming through. The PTCs are giving young amateurs the chance to compete against professionals and you can't beat that type of experience.
Steve Davis recently said that eventually the Chinese players would dominate, but I'm not so sure. So far Ding is the only one who has won titles. A lot depends on whether we end up having to go to China to play qualifiers. When you take players out of their comfort zone and send them to another country, it is tough. The Chinese players have had to go through that and maybe that's why more of them have not climbed to the top.
Away from snooker, I've been playing a lot of golf of course and had a couple of good rounds in competitions, scoring 37 and 38 points in stableford events. I'm changing my swing at the moment and if I can drive the ball straight then I can get my handicap down to scratch.
I have also been following the Lance Armstrong case and I think it's harsh that he has been stripped of seven Tour de France titles, and his legacy completely destroyed. He did a lot for the sport and really put cycling on the map. I can't believe his success was just down to drugs. It seems likely that a lot of cyclists were taking something, so you might as well just let them all take drugs and then see who's the best! Plus it's hard to understand why they didn't catch him while he was still racing.
Anyway, all the best until next time.
It hasn't been a great month for me on the table as I went out early in the PTC events and lost my qualifying match for the International Championship, 6-3 against Cao Yupeng. I've had a few distractions away from snooker as I'm in the process of moving from Romford up to Manchester and I've been staying in a hotel so I haven't practised as much as I normally would. That will all be sorted out soon and I'll be back into a routine.
I haven't played that badly but I've lacked sharpness in matches and made too many mistakes, and at this level those small fractions can make a big difference. It's a long season and I don't let a few bad results get me down, although of course it hurts to lose. I've known Neil Robertson long enough to know that when he loses he just shrugs it off and looks forward to the next one, which is the best way to be.
I'm really pleased that from 2014/15 we're doing away with world ranking points and changing to a prize money list. The money we are earning now will count in 2014/15 and I won 15,000 dollars by getting to the quarter-finals of the Australian Goldfields Open so that's a good start.
A lot of players have been talking about it over the past week and the main complaints are that players should earn prize money from round one, and that tournaments should have flatter structures otherwise the top 16 will be too protected. I know that World Snooker and the WPBSA are looking at both of those issues and I'm sure given time they will get it right. We've already got flatter structures in the Welsh Open and German Masters this season with bands of 32 rather than 16.
Look at Barry Hawkins: he won the Australia tournament this season, a major ranking event, and he only moved up three places in the world rankings, from 23rd to 20th. On a money list he would have moved up a lot more. Or look at Cao Yupeng - he got to the last 16 of the World Championship last season and didn't even earn an automatic place on the tour. It's difficult for young players like Cao and Luca Brecel to climb the rankings quickly because they have to win so many matches.
At the moment, the runner-up in a tournament gets 80 per cent of the ranking points that the winner gets. That can't be right - the winner should be a lot better rewarded and he will be under the prize money system.
I've spoken to Shaun Murphy and Neil Robertson about the money list and they both think it's a great idea as it will reward players who get to the later stages of tournaments. Whatever ranking system you use, the best players will get to the top. But you should be able to climb quickly if you're a winner. For me it is a great incentive and it makes me want to win even more.
Later this month I'm off to China for the second Asian Players Tour Championship event in Yixing. The APTC events are good tournaments in their own right in terms of the set up and the conditions so I'm looking forward to it. It's a shame I didn't qualify for the Shanghai Masters so I could have played in both in the same trip, but at least it gives me a bit more time to practise. I've been over to Widnes to play with Ricky Walden and Andrew Higginson as they have a great facility there.
Away from snooker, as usual I've been playing a lot of golf. I have joined The Mere in Cheshire, where Shaun plays, and got a handicap for the first time. I handed in two scorecards, one round of 73 and one of 76, on a par-71 course and I couldn't believe it when they gave me a handicap of two! I think I should be more like five or six but I would rather have a low handicap because it's a target to aspire to. Shaun is distraught because he's probably a better player than me and he is off five. He's playing really well at the moment, he missed a three-foot putt to shoot one-under in a competition. And the last time I played with him he was two under after 11 holes, but then blew up and shot eight over.
I really enjoy golf and I've played almost every day since the International Championship qualifiers. I'll admit it has interfered with my snooker a little bit, though once the summer is over and I've moved into my new flat I'll be a lot more focussed on snooker. Even if I'd had the choice I would never want to be anything other than a snooker player as I love the game so much. But when I'm 50 and finished with snooker I'd like to have a go on the seniors golf tour....especially if Shaun will caddy for me!
All the best until next time.
In my last diary entry I was just about to head Down Under for the Australian Goldfields Open, and it proved a good trip as I got to the quarter-finals.
I beat Stuart Bingham 5-4 in my first match and that was a great win for me because I'd never played anyone defending a title before. That gave me a real boost of confidence. Then I beat Ryan Day 5-3, I didn't play well but had a lot of run of the ball. In the quarters I played Barry Hawkins and actually played better than I had done in the other two matches. It was a really high standard and I only missed a couple of balls. Barry's safety was superb and he scored heavily as well to beat me 5-3.
I was gutted to lose, because before that match I genuinely believed that I could win the tournament. I was enjoying it and handling the pressure well. It's the first time I have had that feeling and there's a big difference between telling yourself you can win tournaments, and actually believing it. I'm looking forward to being in that situation again. Other than playing, I didn't do much in Australia as I wanted to keep focussed on the event. I went out one night with Mark Selby and his manager Mukesh. And another night I managed to get into a couple of rows with other players, which helps keep things interesting!
Everyone on the Tour now has so much opportunity and I think that's why the likes of Stuart and Barry have won tournaments. It used to be the case that you would never play someone like John Higgins, Stephen Hendry or Ronnie O'Sullivan until you qualified for a venue, but now with the PTC events, the players lower down the rankings have got used to the pressure of competing against the top guys - and beating them.
Likewise, if I play someone lower down the rankings than me, I know that if I am not 100 per cent on my game then they can beat me. In UKPTC1 I lost 4-1 to Ian Burns and in the Shanghai Masters qualifiers I lost 5-4 to Aditya Mehta, and they both played really well. I found the PTC event difficult because I was still getting over jet-lag and my match was at 9am...whose idea was that! I'm feeling fine now and looking forward to the next few tournaments.
At the moment I'm in the process of moving from my home in Romford up to Manchester. I've bought a two-bedroom flat on the top floor of a new development and I'll be moving in at the end of August. I'll have a mortgage but that will be a good thing for me as it's something I have to pay for every month rather than throwing my money away! The main reason I've moved up there is my girlfriend Jayne. We've been together for seven months and it's going well.
The flat is ten minutes drive from Sale Conservative Club, where I'll be practising. Shaun Murphy is based there and it's a really nice club. It's also ten minutes drive from The Mere where Shaun plays golf, and I'm joining the club as well. Shaun and I have been playing a lot of golf lately, in fact we should really get back to snooker! I've beaten him a couple of times but we are both playing well and making a lot of birdies. My handicap is nine and his is six, but at this rate by Christmas we'll both be down to two or three. His ball striking is better than mine, but he reckons I'm the best amateur in the world from inside eight feet!
I also enjoy watching golf on TV and I had a bet on Adam Scott to win the Open so I couldn't believe it when he bogied the last four holes to lose by one to Ernie Els. I'm too young to remember Greg Norman throwing away a few majors, but in my view Scott's was the biggest collapse ever. For someone of his talent to make bogies from prime position in the fairway is shocking. It just shows you what pressure can do at the top level of sport, even to a player as laid back as Scott.
All the best until next time.
Hi everyone and welcome to my new worldsnooker.com diary!
It's only July but already the snooker season is well underway. I started off last month at the Wuxi Classic qualifiers and after a good win against Simon Bedford in my first match, I lost 5-4 to Peter Ebdon in the final qualifying round. Peter is probably the best player I could have faced in that round, he is so good tactically. He's also a big name and I really wanted to beat him so I was disappointed to lose. It was a long match although I don't have a problem keeping my focus in a game like that. There was a big turning point when I was 1-0 up and playing from black to yellow - I got a massive kick which cost me the frame. After that it was very close, but in the last frame I played a really bad safety and he made a 90-odd break. I was just annoyed that I didn't give myself a chance in the decider.
But I bounced back well in the Australian Goldfields Open qualifiers, winning two matches to qualify for the venue. Against Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, who I rate very highly, I was 3-1 down and I hadn't done much wrong. I knew I would get chances after the interval because his safety is not brilliant, and I played well to come back to win 5-3. Then I played Jamie Jones and again he started like a train, going 2-0 up with two breaks in the 80s. In the third frame I made 55 then played a poor safety and let him in, and it looked as if he was going to win the frame but he missed a black off the spot and I nicked it. That changed the match because at 3-0 down it would have been very difficult, but instead I came back to win 5-2. I have to give a lot of credit to Jamie for getting to the quarter-finals at the Crucible last season, that was a phenomenal achievement. He hasn't had the best start to this season but I doubt he feels under any more pressure.
In June I went to China to play in the Asian Players Tour Championship event. As soon as the three APTC events were announced I made the decision to play in all three of them. It wasn't a hard decision at all because you can't put a price on ranking points. Some people have used the word 'blackmail' when talking about the PTCs, but I see them as a great opportunity. The APTCs are a chance to get a place in the Grand Finals and climb up the rankings. Look at Stuart Bingham - he won the event and now he knows he's in the Grand Finals and doesn't have to worry about that for the rest of the season. If I had a wife and kids then it would have been a much harder decision.
The APTC was in Zhangjiagang and the set-up was amazing, it was played in a proper stadium with a big arena. I played Lu Ning in the first round, he's one of the best Chinese amateurs and he beat me 4-2. I was gutted to lose early on but I didn't play badly.
Overall I've got to be happy with my start to the season and it is important to get off to a good start, even though there are so many tournaments. I haven't set any particular targets for the season other than to win as many matches as I can. I believe that my technique is as good as virtually anyone's, and I have recently teamed up with someone to work with on the mental side, which hopefully will be a big help. Looking at the four players who got to the semi-finals in Wuxi last weekend, I know I'm as good as any of them. There are a lot of opportunities in snooker now and it's a huge incentive to be successful.
I'm flying to Australia this week as the tournament in Bendigo starts on Monday. It's such a long journey and at the moment I'm trying to decide whether to upgrade from economy to business, which would cost about £1,400 each way. Last year I flew economy which is tough on such a long journey, so I might bite the bullet and pay the extra this time. I've just bought an ipad and I've been on itunes loading it up with films, music and TV to watch on the flight. I love Only Fools And Horses and also Fresh Meat, which is a bit like The Inbetweeners. I'm the only player on my flight, which might be a good thing. At least I won't have to sit next to Gerard Greene and Mark Davis, listening to their relentless negativity!
When I get to Australia I'll be staying in Melbourne for a few days and meeting up with Neil Robertson and Johl Younger. Johl was on the tour a few years ago and he's a wild card for this event, he's a good guy and I'm looking forward to seeing him again. I'll spend a few days in Melbourne, see a few of the sights and have a game of golf with Shaun Murphy. On Friday evening I'm going to Bendigo with Neil for a Welcome Function hosted by the Mayor of Bendigo.
Last year in Australia I got to the quarter-finals, beating John Higgins and Stephen Hendry. Hopefully the venue will bring back some positive memories for me and I can have another good run. I'm playing Stuart Bingham in the first round, he's the defending champion and he's had a great start to the season. I enjoy taking on players at the top of their game because it's always a good match.
Away from snooker, I've been playing a fair bit of golf, especially with Shaun Murphy at his club, The Mere in Cheshire, which has a beautiful course. His handicap is six and mine's nine so he gives me three shots, and so far I've had the upper hand. The last time we played, he was one up coming down the 18th, a par five. He hit a great drive then hit his second shot into the semi rough just short of the green. But when we got up there he couldn't find the ball, it had disappeared! I ended up winning the hole and halving the match...he was gutted!
When I get back from Australia I'm going to move from Romford to Manchester, so I've been up there a few times to have a look for places to live. Shaun has been very good to me and said I can use his snooker table to practise on. But for now I'm focussed on doing well in Bendigo.
All the best until next time.
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