Matt reflects on a great month on the table, and looks ahead to 2015…
I’ve had some good results over the past few weeks which has given me a lot of confidence looking ahead to the second half of the season.
At the UK Championship in York I played Hammad Miah in the first round, I won 6-0 and I was happy with the way I played. Then I faced Xiao Guodong which was a massive match for me, in fact I’d say it was one of the biggest matches I’ve ever played. It was worth £6,000 and he is someone I’m looking to overtake in the rankings so I need to show that I can beat players like that. Also, Ali Carter was the seeded player in that section, so after he went out I felt that if I could beat Xiao I’d have a good chance to go further. I played well, especially towards the end, taking the last two frames to win 6-4.
In the third round I was up against Rory McLeod, who I had played a few times before without beating him. I knew what to expect and that I would have to be patient. Rory gets stick for being slow, although I don’t actually think he is that slow. Rod Lawler has a longer average shot time, but plays an attacking game. Rory is a more of percentage player, so when he misses, the balls tend to go safe and the frames can go scrappy. Before the interval, I made a century and three breaks over 50, but the score was 2-2 because I’d lost two frames on the black. I won a massive black-ball frame at 3-3 and ended up winning 6-4. It was just a huge relief to get over the line, especially as that set up a clash with Ronnie O’Sullivan.
I was so excited about taking on the Rocket, especially as I was in form and I genuinely thought that I could win. I had a few chances early on, but I missed them, and after that every pot got more difficult. Before I knew it I was 3-0 down, and from that point I didn’t think I could win a frame, and I lost 6-0. He made a 147 in the last frame which I was delighted about because it took the focus away from how bad I had been! I couldn’t believe how loud it was when he got towards the end, I’ve never experienced an atmosphere like that. It was a privileged to be sitting so close to witness Ronnie doing what he does best. I noticed that he took a few deep breaths before he cleared the last few balls, which is a way of dealing with the pressure, and that’s something I’ll learn from.
It wasn’t a tough pill to swallow. I haven’t had many big matches on BBC – my last one was against Mark Selby at the World Championship last year, which was similar as I lost the first five frames. I was just disappointed and annoyed that I didn’t settle down early against Ronnie and show what I can do. Mark Williams tweeted that I was like a ‘rabbit in the headlights’ and he’s entitled to his view because he has won the biggest titles. I didn’t beat myself up about losing. It’s often the close matches – where you lose 5-4 or 6-5 – that leave you sick, rather than ones where you get drubbed.
After that I was ill for a few days and almost had to pull out of the Lisbon Open, but luckily I recovered in time to go to Portugal. My form was still there and I beat Cao Xin Long, Graeme Dott and Ryan Day to get through to the final day. A couple of people said to me that I had bounced back well after losing 6-0 to Ronnie, which was nice to hear. Then I went on to beat Dominic Dale, Judd Trump and Barry Hawkins, all of whom are proven tournament winners. That put me into my first ever pro final, though I lost 4-2 to Stephen Maguire. I was gutted to lose, especially as I felt that if I had played the same as I had in the previous three matches, I would have won. My next goal is to go one better and win a tournament.
I couldn’t believe how big the crowds were in Portugal. When I first heard it was in Lisbon, I imagined people walking past the venue wondering what snooker is. But they knew about it and they loved it. When I played Trump there was a huge crowd and it was so loud. I potted a long yellow at a key moment in the match and the crowd went mad – it sent a shiver down my spine. I really enjoy that kind of atmosphere and I want to experience it more.
In Portugal we trialled using polish on the balls for the first time to try to reduce kicks and bad bounces. I thought it worked well. The first kick I got was in the final. I hope we’ll continue using it.
Then it was on to the German Masters qualifiers in Wigan and I had a couple of really good 5-4 wins to qualify for the Tempodrom in Berlin for the first time, which is something to look forward to in February. I was 3-0 down to Lyu Chenwei but managed to come back to beat him, then I had a great battle with Alan McManus which I won on the final pink.
Over Christmas it has been nice just to spend a bit of time with my family, especially having won about £30,000 over the last few weeks! I have always been lucky enough to have the backing of my family financially, so I’m pleased now to have some money in the bank and be able to look after myself.
I’d like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year and all the best for 2015…hopefully a great year for me!