Matt reflects on a superb run in Poland and gives his views on Ronnie O’Sullivan and Stephen Hendry in his latest column.
Last month I got to the semi-finals of the Gdynia Open in Poland. This was the first time I had got that far in a World Snooker Tour event, and it felt good to back making some progress. As I described here last month, I had been messing about for too long and turning up at tournaments just hoping something would go right. In recent months I have got my head down and started to practise properly.
In the first round in Gdynia I played Ahmed Saif and I’m sure everyone expected me to win 4-0 as he hasn’t won a match yet this season. But I struggled and the match was in the balance at 2-2. I was sitting in my chair thinking about where my career was going. To be honest I was devastated about the way I was playing and couldn’t wait for the game to finish, I didn’t even care if I won or lost, I just wanted to get out of there. There was a bit of needle because I asked Ahmed to sit down while I was playing a shot. He felt that I should ask the referee to tell him to sit down, but after standing up for ten shots in a row it was starting to get on my nerves! It fired me up a bit and I played well in the last two frames to win 4-2.
Then I played Allan Taylor and luckily for me he wasn’t at his best and let me off the hook. I won 4-0 but I played so badly I felt like crying. I felt like I wanted to put my cue away and never get it back out of its case. I called Peter Lines, one of my best mates on the tour and someone who has helped me a lot and always been brutally honest with me. I told him how I felt and he said he was glad I had admitted to myself that I had been neglecting the game for too long. He said now I’d realised how bad I’d become, I could get back to working hard and sorting my game out. I felt a lot better after that, it was as if a huge weight had lifted, and I started to play a lot better. I beat Anthony Hamilton and Rob Milkins 4-0 and Judd Trump 4-1, winning 16 frames in a row at one point.
I played Shaun Murphy in the semis, he was at the top of his game and punished me for every small mistake I made, and bashed me 4-1. I was disappointed because I felt as if I could have won the tournament if I had got to the final. But it felt good winning those matches and getting that far into a tournament, which I hadn’t done before. Sport and life often turn on small moments. If I’d lost to Saif I might have considered a life and career change. But something clicked mentally and now I feel I’m on the right track.
At the Welsh Open I won 4-1 against Khaled Abumdas from Libya, who is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I think he might struggle this year but it’s all a learning curve for him. Then I played Ricky Walden who I have a good record against as I’d only lost to him once before. That record got slightly worse as he beat me 4-2.
This Friday I am flying to China for the Haikou World Open. The players all fly to Beijing then we get a connection flight to Haikou. It’s my 29th birthday on the day so I might have a French Martini or two on the plane to celebrate my last year of not being 30! I’m playing Barry Hawkins on Monday, which will be a tough game but I’m looking forward to it. It’s another tough draw but you get chances against everyone, if you don’t take them you don’t win, it’s simple. The only thing I worry about is how my own game is. It would be nice to get a run going out there.
I watched the Rocket win the Welsh Open last Sunday. He is a freak – an absolute animal. Not only is he comfortably the best player on the planet, but everyone seems to freeze against him. It’s similar to what used to happen when Tiger Woods was going into the back nine on a Sunday, no one could stand up and compete with him. At the moment I think Ronnie could give anyone on the tour 14 or 21 points a frame start, and I think he will win the World Championship for a third year in a row with ease. The only round where he might be vulnerable at the Crucible is the first round where it’s best of 19 frames. But once he gets going he’ll be hard to stop. He can’t meet the likes of Ding Junhui, Neil Robertson and Mark Selby until the semi-finals, and I cannot see anyone beating him over 33 or 35 frames.
This week I had a great game of golf at The Mere in Cheshire. It was Stephen Hendry and I against Dennis Taylor and the former footballer Mike England. I hadn’t played much in the last few months – due to the busy snooker schedule and the bad weather – but I played really well. The one thing you don’t lose is class and flair, and I’ve got both in abundance on the golf course! I missed a five-foot putt for birdie on the 17th and a 12-footer for eagle on the 18th, and still shot three under on the back nine. Overall I was one under, which is the first time I’ve ever shot under par. Needless to say Stephen and I bashed the other two up and took the money. If Dennis is reading this: Stephen and I would just like to say thank you very much for the donation.
There have been a few rumours about Hendry making a comeback, but having spoken to him about it, all he meant was that if there were any big events with wild card places – like they have in golf and tennis – he would consider that. He definitely won’t be practising six hours a day or going in for Q School (although I don’t think he’d get through it anyway). He’s much more interested in getting his golf handicap down and his poker earnings up!
All the best until next time.