20-time Grand Slam tennis champion Roger Federer is revered across the globe and towers above all other sporting figures in his native Switzerland. However, 21-year-old Alexander Ursenbacher is hoping that he can be a pioneer for snooker in the country.
The now truly global World Snooker Tour has 21 different nationalities among its 128 players. Ursenbacher is the sole flagbearer for Switzerland, as the only professional ever to emerge from the country. He secured his second stint on tour last year by winning the European Under-21 Championship, defeating Welshman Jackson Page 6-4 in the final.
The world number 83, who hails from Frenkendorf just outside Basel, captured the imagination of the Swiss sports media with a dazzling run to the semi-finals of this season’s English Open in Barnsley.
He produced a blistering display of attacking snooker, defeating the likes of Shaun Murphy and Anthony Hamilton, before whitewashing Michael White 5-0 to reach the last four. He then came up short in a 6-3 defeat to Kyren Wilson.
Such was the level of attention that he gained coverage ahead of Federer, who was preparing to take part in his home ATP Tour event in Basel, on the website of popular Swiss paper 20 Minuten. That gave rise to suggestions backstage that the Federer of the Baize would be a fitting nickname.
Ursenbacher said: “It would be a very funny nickname! I don’t have one so maybe that should be it. I remember seeing my name up there alongside Federer and found it strange, considering that tennis is such a huge sport.
“There was a lot of attention after Barnsley. I had calls requesting interviews from all over. Even in Finland and Denmark. I spent the next ten days after the tournament running around from newspaper to newspaper. Even earlier this month I had a radio interview, there were so many people from Switzerland wanting to talk to me.
“If I can keep progressing further on in my career and win a tournament or get into the top 16, then the interest would be huge. Of course I’m not saying it would be the same sort of thing as Roger Federer. But, as the only Swiss snooker player on tour it would be a big thing.”
Since that tremendous run in October, Ursenbacher hasn’t reproduced the same form. Defeats in the first round of the next five tournaments set him back, but he feels positive about his long term prospects as he aims to reach the upper echelons of his sport.
The 21-year-old said: “What I achieved at the English Open was a good buzz, but if you can only do it once a year then it doesn’t mean anything. It only shows that you are capable. That is a confidence boost for me, although it also turned into something negative when I lost my next four matches. I learned a lot from Barnsley and it was good financially for me as well. I am using part of the money I earned to buy a new table to practise on in Switzerland.
“To be honest, in the tournaments following Barnsley I wasn’t thinking about what I needed to do, which was potting balls. Instead I was thinking about winning like I was doing at the English Open, as if it would just happen.”
Ursenbacher took up snooker nine years ago at the age of 12 at Basel Snooker Club. However, when the club shut down, in the months prior to his first spell as a professional in 2013, he was left struggling to find a venue to hone his craft. Ursenbacher admits that although his primary objective is success on the World Snooker Tour, the associated benefits to grassroots snooker in Switzerland would be something he would take great pride in.
“It was very difficult for me when Basel Snooker Club shut down,” he said. “I ended up having to move from pub to pub. The odd one had a snooker table in it as well as a pool table and darts. It wasn’t ideal timing for me just before I turned pro. However, back then I wasn’t thinking about the quality of the practice table, I was just trying my best to win matches. Fortunately it has re-opened and I play there again now.
“Firstly I need to look at myself and try to achieve everything I can, because that is the biggest pressure. Then I am trying to promote the game in Switzerland. In any country, if you give the public an interest then everyone’s attitude changes. Hopefully if I can become a top 16 or top 32 player then I really can motivate people to take an interest.”
Last year Ursenbacher came within a single victory of making history and becoming the first Swiss player to compete at the Crucible. He secured two fine victories during World Championship qualifying in Sheffield, defeating Robert Milkins and Scott Donaldson to earn a place at Judgement Day. There he faced China’s top young star Yan Bingtao. In the end Yan proved to be too strong and came through a 10-4 winner. However, Ursenbacher hopes 2018 could be the year he makes his debut on snooker’s biggest stage.
He added: “It would be very special to qualify for the Crucible and a dream for me. There is a chance that no Swiss player will ever get to the Crucible after me. So in theory I could put myself in history as the only one ever. It would be great for me, but I also think that would be fantastic for the sport as a whole and the sport in Switzerland.”