After a tough decade of under-achievement, Daniel Wells is now fulfilling his undoubted talent on snooker’s pro tour.
The 30-year-old from Neath is enjoying the best season of his career and has climbed to 54th in the world rankings. He’s aiming much higher with the ultimate goal to become World Champion.
Back in 2007, Wells was rated one of the sport’s brightest young prospects, and he was awarded the Paul Hunter Scholarship which gave him free coaching for a year. He turned professional in 2008, but struggled for results and was twice relegated from the circuit.
Since 2015 he has shown a significant improvement. Last December he reached the semi-finals of a ranking tournament for the first time. Wins over top players including David Gilbert, Matthew Stevens and Ryan Day got him to the last four of the Scottish Open in Glasgow. He then had leads of 4-0 and 5-2 against Mark Allen, but eventually lost 6-5.
“I was disappointed to lose but I learned a lot from the experience,” said Wells. “It was my first time in the ‘one table’ set up of a big tournament with millions of people watching on TV. That’s a big stepping stone for me.
“I had a chance at 5-2 but touched the green with my shirt. That was a big turning point because I felt very comfortable before that. Mark scores so quickly and before I knew it, it was 5-5. My lack of experience at that level showed, I wasn’t completely gone but I half panicked. Next time I will know better.”
Wells has worked with Stephen Feeney – who coaches the likes of Mark Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan – to develop his game. But the main reason for his recent improvement, he believes, is simply that he approaches tournaments in a more mature way.
“I have got more experience now and I am preparing for tournaments properly,” he said. “It has taken me a few years to work this out but I know now what works for me in terms of how and when to practise and how much to do during the build up to tournaments.
“I have learned from my mistakes. In the past I used to think the more practice I do the better I will be, but I have realised now it’s better to ease off in the few days before a match to make sure I am fresh. Even the small details like which hotel to stay in and the best routines to use are important.
“For example in December I put in a lot of work ahead of the UK Championship. I won a tough first round match 6-5 against Zhao Xintong, then I played Mark Williams in the second round and lost 6-0. It was embarrassing because I played so badly and it was on television. After that I felt dejected and I wasn’t looking forward to going to the Scotland Open because I had Ronnie O’Sullivan in the first round and he is the best of all time in my eyes.
“I had a stroke of luck because he pulled out of the tournament and from there I relaxed and played really well. I enjoyed it more and more, the further I went. I realised that the work I had done for the UK Championship, followed by the rest I had before going to Scotland, was the perfect preparation. I have proved I can beat some of the top 16 players now and get to the later stages of a tournament.”
Matthew Stevens, a former UK and Masters champion, has also played an important role in Wells’ progress as a player.
“I have been practising with Matthew for the past two to three years and he has helped me no end,” Wells explains. “He has been incredibly good to me and I am so lucky to have learned from him. When we play he gives me a lot of advice on shot selection and tells me the truth if I’ve played the wrong shot. I first practised with him ten years ago and I couldn’t understand some of the shots he played. Now I am more on the same wavelength and I can see the benefit in the way he goes about break-building.”
From his current position of cautious optimism, Wells is able to look back on long spells of frustration. “Most of my career has been very tough,” he said. “Between the ages of 19 and 27 I went backwards. It has only been in the past two or three years I have moved forwards. A lot of players would have quit but at least I had the determination and motivation to keep going.
“I have always put the hours into practice but looking back I wasn’t doing that in a smart way. When I got back on to the tour via Q School in 2015 I said that things would be different this time because I felt I was ready to improve. For a long time I felt that I wasn’t getting the results because of a lack of confidence, but now I realise that my game was just a long way off what it needed to be. And it still is a long way from where I want to get to, but I least I am winning matches now against good players.
“I never wanted to quit but there were times when it felt like banging my head against a brick wall. Now I have moved up to another plateau and I can see a vast new area of potential improvement ahead of me. My ultimate goal is to become World Champion, it always has been. For years that wasn’t even on the radar. If I can keep up my current rate of improvement I can keep moving towards that goal. I’m on the right track.”
During his most recent spell among the amateur ranks, Wells worked at Swansea docks, driving cars on and off ships. “I had to have an income,” he recalls. “When I first turned professional I just assumed that was the path I was on forever. That wasn’t the case and it was a struggle to accept that. But the experience of doing a job day to day has stood me in good stead because I know how difficult it is. What I want to be is a successful snooker player and it is up to me to achieve that.”
Away from the table it’s a happy time for Wells as he was recently engaged to partner Jodie and they have a ten-month old daughter called Carys. But a complicated pregnancy meant a worrying time for the family.
“We had a 16 week scan and found out we were having a girl, everything looked fine,” Wells explains. “But then at the 20 week scan we were told that the baby had cleft lip. It was a total surprise to us, we hadn’t even considered it. Cleft lip can be related to Down syndrome and various other disorders, and they were also concerned she could have heart problems. At the time it was very scary.
“The day after we found out, I had to fly to China for the Shanghai Masters. My head was a mess. I couldn’t focus on snooker and my results suffered. Jodie had some blood samples taken and they had to be sent to a special laboratory in Hong Kong. Thankfully when the results came back we found that the risks of further complications were very low. When Carys was born she was beautiful. At three months she had an operation to repair the cleft lip, which was successful. Everything is brilliant now and we feel very lucky.”