Ukraine’s Iulian Boiko became the youngest player in Betfred World Championship history last year, when he competed in the first round of qualifying at the age of 14, now he is setting his sights on a Crucible debut.
Boiko, now aged 15, has spent the last year playing on the World Snooker Tour, having gained professional status by being runner-up at the 2020 WSF Open.
It’s been a baptism of fire for the Kiev cueman, who failed to register a match win in his first nine events on the professional circuit. However, a fine 4-3 victory over Fergal O’Brien at the recent Gibraltar Open was followed up with a strong showing against former Masters champion Mark Allen. Boiko led the Northern Irishman 3-1, before eventually going out 4-3 on the final black.
Boiko is getting ready to face Welshman Jamie Clarke in the first round of Crucible qualifying next week. We caught up with him to find out how his preparations are going and assess his first season as a professional…
Iulian, how much confidence did you get from your recent win over Fergal O’Brien and how much did you enjoy the experience of facing Mark Allen in round two?
“It gave me a lot of confidence. I was very excited to play the next round against such a great player like Mark Allen. I started off brilliantly to be 3-1 up and I was very close to finishing the match. I was 40 points up in the decider, but the pressure got to me. Before the match I didn’t believe that it was possible for me to beat Mark, so it was a great experience for me to come close to doing it. I think that if I get another chance like this next time then I’ll play much better and hopefully get the win.”
You missed a black to force a re-spot in the decider, how disappointing was it to come so close to beating such a top player?
“The black that I missed was so close to going in. I just think it wasn’t meant to be. Mark did have a bad day in the beginning and I started off brilliantly. His class is much bigger and better than mine and unfortunately the lack of belief didn’t allow me to win. It was a dream come true to play against him. I know how great a player he is. It was an honour to compete with and almost beat him. I have re-watched the match and I’m already working on the things which I think I can improve. Hopefully I will be in great form for the World Championship.”
You face Jamie Clarke in the first round of Crucible qualifying. What sort of match are you expecting?
“To be honest, reflecting on my opponent, I know Jamie very well and he is a great guy. However, you never really know what to expect from him. There are tournaments where he is just brilliant and his game is like top 32 or top 16 players. There are tournaments where you can see he isn’t playing that well. I’m just going to focus on my own game and try not to think about him. Whatever the result is, I will be happy. I really want to play well and fight to get to the next round.”
How would you assess your first season on tour?
“When I first got on tour I wasn’t quite ready for it. Of course I showed flashes of good stuff throughout the season, but my game wasn’t consistent. There are different conditions when you are playing on the main tour. New cloths, great tables and very fast conditions. I really needed time to adapt my game and I think I’ve made a huge step forward this season. Now I feel that I am able to compete against any player. Of course I need time and experience to learn how to go about winning matches.”
You practise at Ding Junhui’s new academy in Sheffield when you are in the UK. What has that been like?
“I’ve spent a lot of time at Ding’s academy. It is a nice place with the very best players and it is a pleasure to practise there. I’ve actually got to play Ding once, he whitewashed me. We played before the UK Championship, where he was defending his title. He beat me 6-0 but it was a brilliant experience. He is such a great player. When you watch him it is amazing how he does things. Hopefully one day I can play like him. I was very happy to get some advice from him. The way he supports me and believes in me give me a lot of confidence. He said to me that I will get there, but I have to work hard and believe that it will pay off one day. I hope his words will come true.”
What are your main goals and targets for the near future?
“My dream in the short term is to get to the Crucible. I believe over the next couple of seasons that is quite possible. You just have to take those qualifiers one game at a time and only think about your next opponent. I want to come out and play to show my best performances. I’m working hard. I think the most realistic goal I can set for the next while is the Crucible. I’ve always watched the World Championship on Eurosport in Ukraine. It is a big dream to play there.”
Who was your snooker hero growing up watching on TV?
“I think Ding and Mark Selby are my two favourite players and snooker heroes. I want to try and learn from Mark. Each game you watch, even when he isn’t playing well, he can win with his A,B,C or D game. He finds a way to win and is a great fighter. I admire his character and spirit to win. It would be really a dream come true to draw him in the future as I haven’t played him yet.”