Not many players who have won the UK Championship and the Masters could be considered under-achievers.
Matthew Stevens turns 40 today and may well add to his tally of silverware in what remains of his career. But the Welshman admits that he could have captured more of snooker’s biggest titles during his prime years.
One of the most talented players of his generation, Stevens turned pro in 1994 and by the age of 22 he had contested two finals at the UK Championship, one at the World Championship and landed the Masters crown, beating Ken Doherty 10-8 in the memorable 2000 final.
In 2003 he won his only ranking title, winning the UK final in York against Stephen Hendry by a 10-8 scoreline.
Stevens contested another World final in 2005 and led Shaun Murphy after the first day but eventually lost 18-16; the match following a similar pattern to his Crucible clash with Mark Williams five years earlier. He was also a semi-finalist in Sheffield in 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2012.
He has won non-ranking events including the Scottish Masters, Northern Ireland Trophy and Championship League.
But Stevens and his many supporters could be forgiven for wishing he had produced his best form more often at the business end.
“I have under-achieved,” said the Carmarthen cueman as he looked back on the past two decades. “I have produced good snooker in the big tournaments. I have lost a lot of finals including two UK Championship and two World Championship. I have won tournaments as well. All you can do is your best and I have tried that.
“I don’t see why I can’t still win tournaments and get back into the top 16. Look at Mark King and Anthony Hamilton, they have proved that you can win tournaments in your 40s, and I have got years on those two.”
He may not have reached the quarter-finals of a ranking event for three years, but Stevens has shown signs of a return to form. At last month’s China Championship he beat the likes of Mark Allen and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh to reach the last 16, then led Li Hang 4-3 but lost 5-4.
Stevens beat Mark Williams to reach the last 16 at the Crucible two years ago
“I was disappointed to lose that match,” said the world number 49, who was ranked fourth in 2005/06. “It’s difficult. If you lose matches you will drop quickly. But you only need one good week to jump back up. I actually felt as if I was close to winning the event in China, if I had beaten Li Hang then who knows? You win £150,000 and you’re not far off the top 16. I feel that one big week could happen. I have still got three or four good years left in me.
“If you win matches it breeds confidence. It’s early in the season and I haven’t really practised much but I have got a few matches under my belt and I’m hitting the ball nicely. I will be working harder in practice as the season goes on and getting back in the gym. I stopped smoking in January and since then I’ve put a bit of the weight back on. It’s a long run of events now until Christmas and hopefully there’s a lot of money to be made.
“Practice is harder, but I love competing in the bigger events. It was great to play on the main table in Guangzhou, that’s the kind of occasion which makes me want to keep going.”
Watch Stevens and all the top stars play in big tournaments in the UK this season, starting at the English Open in Barnsley next month. For details of an incredible ticket offer click here.