John Astley believes a quicker pace of play was key to securing his return to the World Snooker Tour after he successfully negotiated the third and final event of Q School earlier this month.
Astley was relegated from the circuit at the conclusion of the 19/20 season and although he has enjoyed several appearances as a top up, he has been without his professional status since then.
The former Riga Masters quarter-finalist suffered two unsuccessful Q School campaigns in 2020 and 2021. After falling short in the first two events this year, he was pitted against former Shoot Out winner Michael Holt in the final round of the tournament. Astley was victorious by a 4-2 scoreline and was visibly emotional after the victory.
Despite being an underdog, Astley admits he felt confident heading into the game, having enjoyed a strong record against Holt in recent meetings.
Astley said: “It was a whole mixed bag of emotions. I was playing one of the favourites to get back on the tour, in Michael Holt. I knew it was going to be tough but, it made a difference knowing I’d had some good results against him earlier in the season. With Michael dropping off the tour he was probably low in confidence, but I had to do a job and I was confident. I was scoring well and potted some really good balls under pressure. I had the belief in my game in that last round and that was a big help. To get over the line was massive. I let off a pretty loud roar after I won. It was just a huge relief.
“I was trying not to think too much about it or call it do or die. It is fairly obvious that it makes a huge difference to me and the opportunities I will get for the next two years. I know there are likely to be less top ups going forward. With it being the last event, it was nice to know that I can do it when the pressure is at the highest possible point. I felt I got stronger and stronger as that last event went on. The last game was pretty horrible. I didn’t have much for breakfast as he appetite wasn’t there. I felt pretty anxious, but I held myself together really well. I’m just really happy to be back on the tour.
“I think I approached Q School a bit differently. One of the biggest things for me was to try to play a bit quicker. I keep an eye on the average shot times and I’ve noticed that if I play a bit quicker and more on instinct then I do better, score a bit heavier and I enjoy it more. It makes sense to try to do it, although it isn’t always very easy. I’ve done it consistently throughout Q School so I’m going to try to do it more going forwards. I want to play more in the way I like to. I have to trust it. I can do that now with a few more results behind me. That will be my main difference in my approach.”
Astley’s hiatus from life as a professional came at a time when the world was changing due to the pandemic. His own personal situation was also changed when he and wife Gemma celebrated the birth of son Kayden. With another son on the way in October, he is now determined to make the most of his return to the tour and create some moments which can make his family proud. However, Astley admits that becoming a father has changed his perspective on the sport.
“You have to be so focussed on the game and yourself when you go to tournaments. When I get back from events, he hasn’t a clue where I’ve been and whether I’ve won or lost. It is back to normal daddy duties. I really like that. You can get home and switch off a bit from the tournament. Whether I have played well or badly, it keeps me on an even keel. I can’t be going home and moping around, because he wants to play and do stuff. He’s more interested in Thomas the Tank engine than the me in the snooker at the moment, but it would be nice in a few years if he could look and see me on TV and be proud of what I’m doing.
“To be back on the tour after the last two years and everything which has happened is amazing. It has been such a crazy two years with the arrival of Kayden and the pandemic. I played in a couple of Q Schools unsuccessfully before this and that was heartbreaking. It was quite hard to come back from mentally. I kept on believing. I know what I am capable of. I just had to get back through Q School somehow, because I believe the tour is where I belong.”
One thing Astley will be bidding for next season is qualifying for his debut in the final stages of the World Championship. However, he has already appeared at the Crucible Theatre. He played Jack O’Connell’s opponent in the snooker play named The Nap in 2016. Following a successful run, the play was adapted to be on Broadway in New York and Astley was offered the same role. He turned it down to focus on his career and although he is sure he made the correct choice, he still wonders what might have been.
Astley recalled: “It was the writer who approached me first. He basically said that it was getting taken on by a production company on Broadway and that they were happy to offer me the same part. To be offered a gig on Broadway was pretty surreal. They sent through all the info on where I’d stay and how much I’d be paid. They even sent a contract through to have a look at, I could have signed it there and then. I think they were going to give me accommodation on the edge of Times Square. It would have been pretty amazing, but unfortunately I had to say no on this occasion.
“I do look back and think it would have been an incredible experience. I was on the tour at the time, so to miss a good three months of the season would have been too much. I had to go with my head and turn it down. A few friends and family have said that I should have gone for it, but my dad and others looked at it from the side of what I needed to do for my career. I think I made the right decision but there is definitely a part of me that looks back and wonders about what it would have been like.”