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Hugill Mentality Aided By Conquering Water Phobia

Ashley Hugill has recently taken the plunge by learning to swim and conquering a long held phobia of water, which he believes has strengthened his resolve and also led to psychological benefits in the match arena.

Hugill enjoyed a fine run to the last 16 of the recent BetVictor European Masters, winning two 5-4 deciders against Ali Carter and Xiao Guodong before eventually bowing out to four-time World Champion Mark Selby 5-2. Looking ahead, the York cueman also faces the prospect of a showdown against Chinese superstar Ding Junhui at the upcoming Wuhan Open.

The 28-year-old was determined not to let his fear of water get the better of him and thinks learning to swim has benefitted him hugely. We’ve caught up with Hugill to find out more and hear about how he feels ready to take his snooker career up a level…

Ashley, well done on learning to swim and facing your fear of water. Tell us more about why you decided to take on that challenge.

“Until not that long ago, I couldn’t actually swim at all. That was something I decided to rectify and I went out to get lessons and learn. Now I’m doing it for fitness which is really nice. I’ve gone from being scared of having my head under the water to doing three or four nights a week. I’m proud to have gone from having a phobia of water to being a confident swimmer. I swam in the sea for the first time this summer. My friends quite like swimming in the sea and in the past I’ve had to be there but not get involved. That was a little bit frustrating. That has really pushed me to learn to swim as well.”

How much has beating that phobia helped you put things into perspective on the snooker table and helped your mentality with the sport?

“Once you get to a certain level in the game, all of the players can play all of the shots. Once you get to that level it is about controlling your emotions and being able to stay in the present. I feel doing challenges like taking on phobias strengthens your mind for the big moments in the big matches. I always panicked when my head was under water. I hated it so I decided to try and learn to swim to conquer one of my big fears. It was really rewarding to do it and made me feel really good.”

How happy were you with your run to the last 16 of the European Masters?

“I put in some really solid performances. It is definitely something to build on for the rest of the season. Even against Mark I can’t say that I played badly. I thought we both played really well in that match. It was good to get a couple of wins in deciders. Before a game, you always envisage having it easily. Actually, after you’ve won a close match it is more of a confidence boost. You make the balls you need to and the breaks you need to when the chips are down. That is very satisfying to do. I was really happy with my performances in those decider victories.”

You were eventually beaten by Mark Selby. What is it like coming up against a player of his quality in a big match situation?

“I’ve had quite a few of those matches now and I’m at the stage now where I feel like I’m going to start winning some of them soon. In the past I’ve been overawed in big arenas playing against all-time greats. Against Mark it was the best I’ve felt in those matches. I feel like I’m going up a level. I feel I’m close to having a big run against a top player. My composure is there more than it was. I think that is just down to experience. I’ve had quite a few of those games now and even though they haven’t gone my way in the past, I can feel that it is coming in the big games.”

How much of that experience was gained playing Neil Robertson on your Crucible debut in 2022?

“I think that got rid of a lot of doubts that I had about my game. Not just getting to the Crucible, but holding my own against Neil when he was in brilliant form. I didn’t get smashed to pieces and lose my composure. Even though I didn’t get the win I put on a good performance. I thought at the time the performance would stand me in good stead and I feel that it has done.”

Did playing at the Crucible for the first time live up to your expectations?

“It was everything and more. Going into the game I obviously had high expectations of playing there. I think it smashed all of them out of the park. I’ll never forget the first red I potted. Neil had 130 in the first frame. Then I potted a really good long ball and I couldn’t believe how loud it was. I had to take a minute as it was an awesome feeling. If you can play your game at the Crucible then you can play it anywhere I think.”

How much are you looking forward to facing Ding Junhui out at the Wuhan Open?

“It is a brilliant opportunity. It is a tough draw but I was happy. I really wanted to go to China. When I get there now I’m going to have a massive game on my hands. It is another of those sorts of games that I feel I can win. As I said about playing Mark, winning one of those matches is right around the corner if I keep working hard and doing what I’m doing. I think the pressure is off me because everyone will be there to see Ding. I will play my game and see where it gets me. I know what to expect with the crowd and support he will get but I’m focussing on myself.”