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A Pinch Of Selt

Matt looks back over the last few tournaments…

Ni Hao everyone.

Last month I went to the Shanghai Masters and I lost 5-3 to Zhao Xintong in the wild card round. Zhao and Yan Bingtao are head and shoulders above all the other wild cards so it was a tough draw to have to play him. My attitude wasn’t the best and I made it too easy for him. He’s a quality player though and he is going to go a long way in this game. I struggled with the conditions – the way the ball reacts in that level of humidity is different to what we’re used to and it’s very hard to adjust to. I guess it just takes a long time to get used to the conditions out there.

If I qualify in future I think I’m going to change my game slightly, tighten up a bit and not go for certain shots that I would usually fancy. Those conditions suit a certain type of player, with a short, punchy action. Every time I’ve played there I’ve lost so next time I’ll try something different.

One of the highlights of a trip to China is always going to the local markets. I buy so much stuff and it’s highly amusing bartering with the locals. Everybody ends up haggling over 50p, but it’s about trying to batter them down as far as you can and not letting them mug you off. The K-Dog (Mark King) is probably the best at it. He takes no nonsense. Chris Melling is new on the scene and he thinks he knows what he’s doing, but in reality he hasn’t got a clue. The worst has to be Chris Wakelin purely for the fact that last time we went (his debut at the markets) he bought a watch for £125 and he was smiling and chirping about what a great deal he’d got, then 30 seconds later he found out it was only worth £60.

Barnsley was next on the calendar for the International Championship qualifiers. I drew Alex Pagulayan and, without any disrespect, I never felt it was a match that I was going to lose. He is a phenomenal nine-ball pool player and if we played pool he’d batter me every time, but he must find the challenge of snooker very hard. At 3-0 up I thought it was going to be a really quick match but then Alex made a century and got back into the game at 3-2. I managed to take the next three frames to win 6-2. Alex has a lot of flair and it’s great to see him giving snooker a go to see what he can do. He used two or three different cues and played a couple of shots behind his back. Then when he won a frame, I went out of the arena but the guy who owns the Atack snooker club where I play, Big Ian White, said Alex did a little dance by the table. He’s a very amusing guy with a lot of character. He did play slowly but that was because he doesn’t know a lot of the shots an orthodox snooker player would know, so he has to work them out.

In Chengdu I’ll be playing Neil Robertson. We’ve been friends for years but never met in a tournament before. I wouldn’t say I dream about matches like that – beating Ronnie O’Sullivan in the World final is what most people dream of – but it’s fantastic to have the chance to test myself against one of the world’s best, live on TV. I hope Neil plays as well as he can and I can rise to the challenge.

Last week we were in Sofia for the Bulgarian Open. I flew on the Thursday night and landed at 2am so didn’t get to bed until 3.30am and only had four hours sleep as I was playing at 9.30am on the Friday. The players try to book flights as early as possible, often before the draw comes out, to keep costs down, so it’s just unfortunate when it works out like that. If I’d been playing at any time other than 9.30am I would have been fine. I thought about changing my flight and getting one on the Thursday morning, but it would have cost £300 so I decided against it. If it happens again, I probably will switch flights because only having a few hours in bed is very poor preparation. Earlier this season, Andrew Higginson got stuck in horrendous traffic on the way from Widnes to Gloucester for the Wuxi qualifiers, turned up late for his match, got docked the first three frames and lost 5-0. He was just very unlucky and a few players do drive to qualifying venues on the day of the match, especially if they’re playing in the evening. If I’m playing in Barnsley at 7.30pm then I’ll leave Nuneaton at 2.15pm which gives two or three hours leeway. If I did get stuck in traffic I’d jump out, cross to the other side and call a taxi.

Anyway, in Sofia I played Sam Harvey and I was lucky to win 4-2 because he had a very good chance to go 3-2 up. He missed the green and that made a huge difference to the outcome of the match and I was fortunate to get through. I went back to the hotel and slept for another couple of hours, then played much better in my second match and beat Mitchell Mann 4-0, finishing with a break of 123.

Then I played Robbie Williams and I lost 4-2 but it was a game that I felt I played pretty well in and was gutted to lose. Robbie played well though so all credit to him. That leaves me just inside the top 24 for the Players Championship Grand Finals and the top 32 for the World Grand Prix. I’d love to stay inside the cut mark and play in both events as they have now become major tournaments on the snooker calendar.

I watched the Ryder Cup golf on TV the other week and I found it disappointing. The course was too easy and Europe won very comfortably. Ian Poulter was dreadful but they could have had Xintong and Bingtao as their wild cards and they would still have won. Rory McIlroy was phenomenal, I just love watching him. He takes opponents apart by pumping it at least 20 yards past everyone and then going flag hunting on every hole. That’s what sport is all about for me, watching the very best play their best. I think far too much significance is attached to what the captains do. Paul McGinley was getting a lot of praise when it’s the players who actually won it.

Anyway, until next time, keep it real.