Hard work is paying off for Matt….
I’ve been working really hard on the practice table for the past couple of months and it is starting to show in my results.
I had a decent run to the last 16 of the Riga Open in Latvia. It was our first time in Riga – it’s a beautiful city and the venue was brilliant. I beat Zak Surety 4-0 then Shaun Murphy 4-3. To beat Shaun was a big scalp. To be honest we both struggled with the table, though I did make a good break of 62 in the last frame to win it. Then I beat Paul Davison 4-2 to qualify for the final day. I then had the whole Saturday off which interrupted my momentum. There was a local snooker club and I should have gone there for a practice, but I didn’t. I was annoyed with myself because it was a chance to go a long way in the tournament but I didn’t take it. On the Sunday morning I lost 4-2 to Anthony McGill and played poorly.
But I felt I had some momentum going into the Shanghai Masters qualifiers in Barnsley. I played Vinnie Calabrese first who is a dangerous player so I knew I had to score well and keep him away from the table. In the first three frames I went 70, 107, 105 and ended up winning 5-1. Then I played Chris Wakelin who plays at the same club as me in Nuneaton and we shared a lift to Barnsley. He beat Ricky Walden in Riga and he’s been tipped as one to watch by a few players. I nicked the first frame on the pink and then dominated the rest of the match. I didn’t score as heavily as I did against Vinnie but I barely made a mistake and I’d rate it as probably the best performance of my career. Then in the last round I played Mark Davis and again I made very few mistakes. I had a 140 and an 85 in going 4-1 ahead. Then I got a bit nervous and missed two blues to the green pocket which could have won me the match. He won that frame but I won the seventh comfortably to qualify for Shanghai. Overall, of the 15 frames I won in Barnsley, I won nine of them in my first scoring visit. I haven’t played that well for years.
It’s no co-incidence that the results have started coming since Stephen Hendry has guided me in the right direction in terms of my practice regime. My whole game is stronger and my concentration levels are phenomenal. Since I got my Star table put into the club, I have been living on it. Stephen has given me some routines to work on which have made a big difference. You get out of this game what you put in…I suppose I have always known that, but when the most successful player of all time tells you, it really hits home. Stephen has taken the time to help me and I want to put the work in to get the benefits. It’s still early days but I’m on the right track. Every time I open my cue case now I’m looking forward to getting to the table and hitting the ball in the way I want to.
This week it’s Germany for the Paul Hunter Classic, I’m playing Alfie Burden in my first match on Friday. Then I’ve got Shanghai to look forward to next month. I’ve been drawn against a wild card – Zhou Xintong – so it’s a chance to take on the best Chinese amateur player.
Looking back on Barnsley, I really liked the new partitions between tables. They allow fans to watch several matches at once, but they are high enough to stop us being able to see the other tables when we’re sitting in our seats. When you can see other tables you end up watching them which can be very distracting from your match. If we have the same at every qualifying event, the players can’t complain. I should also mention that the tables were immaculate and I didn’t have a single bad bounce. During the event I stayed in Sheffield and spent a fair bit of time with Ken Doherty and his friend Mick. We had a few meals together and I really enjoyed their company. Ken was one of my idols when I started watching snooker and he has become a good friend.
As I’ve been working so hard on my game I haven’t done much away from snooker. When I was ranked 37th in the world I started playing golf – I got pretty good at it but my snooker form plummeted. So I’ve more or less quit golf, though I am looking forward to the World Snooker golf day at The Oxfordshire next week.
I did watch a bit of Rory McIlroy winning both the Open and the USPGA. What a force he is now – he’s getting close to the way Tiger Woods played in his prime. I used to see him as a player who was liable to blow up when in contention, but before the USPGA I felt that no one could beat him. He’s driving it 30 yards past his opponents and hitting two clubs less into the green. It’s great to see a country as small as Northern Ireland produce Rory as well as other major winners Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke.
Finally I just want to mention Ali Carter as he tweeted this morning that he has finished his chemotherapy and is feeling a lot better. He texted me last week after I won my first match in Shanghai which was a nice thing to do. I’m sure he will be eager to get back to playing in tournaments. Everyone is supporting him and hoping he makes a full recovery. He is a class act and it will be great for the sport to see him back playing.
All the best until next time.