With a quarter-final berth at last week’s Shanghai Masters, Michael White continued his steady progress up the snooker ladder…
Not many snooker players are tipped for the top before they even reach their tenth birthday. That’s something White has had to get used to since, at the age of nine, he entered the Guinness Book of Records as the youngest player to make a competitive century break, following a 105 in a local league match, despite only just being able to see over the table.
By the age of 14 the Welshman was known throughout the snooker fraternity, having become the youngest ever winner of the World Amateur title (or the IBSF World Grand Prix as it was called that year.) He went on to win the 2007 European Under-19 Championship and turned professional in the same year.
In 2013, White made a major breakthrough on the pro circuit when he reached the quarter-finals of the World Championship, knocking out boyhood idol Mark Williams on a remarkable Crucible debut. He also got to the last eight of the 2013 Indian Open, and reached his third ranking quarter-final last week.
White is frequently named as one of snooker’s best young prospects and a potential tournament winner. But the weight of expectation barely registers with the laid-back 23-year-old from Neath.
“I have a very steady life away from snooker, I live with my mum and I have family and friends who keep me down to earth,” he said. “I still find it surreal sometimes, playing against the likes of Neil Robertson who I was watching on TV only a few years ago. It’s hard to explain. But I am enjoying it.
“I don’t pay much attention if people are talking about my potential. If they say I’m one of the best young players I’ll take that as a compliment but I don’t put any pressure on myself or set targets. All I look towards is my next match.”
In Shanghai, a superb 5-4 win over world number two Robertson, described by White as the best result of his career, was followed by a 5-2 win over friend and practice partner Ryan Day. Battling Mark Allen for a place in the semis, White stormed back from 4-1 down to 4-4 with breaks of 85, 83 and 76, only to lose a tight deciding frame.
“I was bitterly disappointed to lose because it was a match I could have won,” he said. “I made three good breaks to get back to 4-4 and he barely had a shot. The last frame was edgy and we were both feeling pressure. I got a kick on a red and missed it when I was in the balls and I felt that was my chance to win.
“But within two hours I was fine and the disappointment was gone. I was happy to have got to another quarter-final and to have played as well as I did, even in the match I lost. I was 3-0 down to Robertson and not even thinking about winning the match, but I stuck in there and proved to myself that I can beat the best players. When I first played on TV I was a bit nervy but I feel comfortable in that situation now and I just want to keep pushing forward.
“I’m not one to dwell on things so after I got back from Shanghai I just had a couple of enjoyable days off and then got back to practice for the International qualifier next week. That’s all I’m focussed on now.”
White, who first played snooker at the age of seven, has only just broken into the world’s top 32 – standing 27th on the current list – but is pleased with the progress he has made. “I have moved up steadily and I feel as if I have become a better player year by year,” he said. “I’m only 23 years old so I’ve got plenty of time ahead of me, it’s just a case of keeping on the right track.
“I’m a big fan of the structure in snooker now and the flat draws which can help younger players to move up quickly. I say that even though I’m in the top 32 now which means I would have only had to win one match to qualify for events under the old system. And I know some players don’t like the travelling to overseas events and time spent away from home, but I don’t mind it.
“Some players talk about the cloth being too heavy at overseas events, but I never complain about conditions. To me the conditions are always lovely, the only thing that varies is how lovely they are. It’s not as if we have to play in working men’s clubs on a ripped cloth.”
During downtime at events in China, White enjoys shopping in local markets, and during the Shanghai tournament he tweeted a picture of an impressive haul of t-shirts and trainers. “If there are other players going I always tag along to the markets, it is fun,” he said. “A few of us also regularly play badminton. Mark Williams is the best by miles and the rest of us are all around the same standard.
“My other main hobby is supporting Manchester United and it’s an exciting time this season with the likes of Di Maria and Falcao signing. The last year or so has been bleak but we’ve got the right manager now.”