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Grace Relishing Tour Return

David Grace enjoyed a fairytale run to the semi-finals of the UK Championship in 2015, but three years later the Yorkshireman found himself relegated from the professional circuit.

After securing a return to the World Snooker Tour, Grace is now hoping to press on and move up the rankings.

Not many people would have put Grace down as a potential candidate for tour relegation after his exploits in reaching the semis of snooker’s second most prestigious ranking event in 2015. On that occasion, he was narrowly denied a place in the UK Championship final following a 6-4 defeat to Liang Wenbo.

A difficult 2017/18 campaign saw results drop off and ended in Grace losing his professional status. He missed out on an immediate return through Q School and was forced to turn to snooker’s amateur Challenge Tour. Grace’s performances over the season saw him win two events and earn a fresh two-year professional tour card.

The 34-year-old, who won his opening two matches of this season to qualify for the Riga Masters and International Championship, hopes that his time on the Challenge Tour will benefit him going forward.

Grace won two Challenge Tour events last season.

“I do like the travelling, but I did quite a lot of that on the Challenge Tour last year. I don’t really feel like I have dropped off the circuit in that regard,” said Grace. “I think if I had come off the tour having not won any games this would have been a different process. There were never any thoughts of packing it in or anything like that. I just fell on the wrong side of the line and that can happen. You need to stay positive and the Challenge Tour helped a lot. It was good to have something to practise for and concentrate my focus on, that was very important.

“It was massive to win my first two matches of the season at the qualifiers. I normally don’t start very well. Even though it is early days in the season, the longer that you go without winning, the harder it gets. Things like that can play on your mind. Getting that first win felt like a really big moment and it was a nice way to get up and running.”

This season sees the second Challenge Tour campaign get underway. Having graduated from the process, Grace now believes that snooker’s second tier has the potential to revitalise the amateur game.

“It will definitely help to build things at the amateur level. Now there is something to play in and work towards all year round. You can learn things at Q School, but it is all condensed into three weeks and it is a very high pressure situation. I think there is now a chance for amateur players to have a bit more freedom. There are ten events, you will win games and make mistakes to lose some, but it is a good chance to measure where you are at.”

Grace made his World Championship debut in 2017 after coming through qualifying in style, losing just 15 of the 45 frames he played. The Yorkshireman was afforded a special ovation when he entered the Crucible arena for the first time in his home county. He lost out in a 10-6 defeat against Kyren Wilson. However, it was still an occasion to relish for Grace and he is aiming to create further memories like that having returned to the circuit.

Grace said: “I hope I can get back there. You can’t beat that feeling. I just cannot put into words what it feels like walking out at the Crucible and the emotions of playing on a stage like that. It is what everyone dreams of and what everyone is aiming towards.

“It was surreal stepping out for that match and a very important experience. If I don’t qualify I am glued to it on television every year. There were times earlier in my career that I had given up on getting there, so it really was an indescribable feeling when I did.

“I’ve got to make some short-term goals over the next two years to up my ranking and try to get back to those moments. To get into the world’s top 64 in the first season would require something out of the ordinary, so it would be good to get within striking distance. I am also looking at the seeding cut offs for things like the UK and the World Championship. It would be nice to get into the top 80 before the worlds and get to skip the first round.”