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Tornado Gathers Force

Snooker’s Mediterranean maverick Tony Drago is full of optimism about the new season as he looks ahead to the Wuxi Classic.

The 48-year-old from Malta was in danger of relegation from the World Snooker Tour towards the end of last season, but survived after key results involving other players went his way. As one of the best eight players on the European Tour Order of Merit – who were outside the top 64 of the world rankings – he is now guaranteed another two years on the pro circuit.

“I feel the same level of excitement now as I did when I was at my best in the 1990s,” said the former world number ten, who remains one of the sport’s most popular figures thanks to his rapid, attacking style and charisma. “I got lucky at the end of last season. I needed players to win and lose matches and they did. But now I’ve got another two years and I feel fantastic.

“I’m 49 in September and I’ll be the oldest player at the Yixing Open and Wuxi Classic. After Steve Davis and Jimmy White, I’m the third oldest player around. But I still love playing and I’ll be giving it everything for the next two years.”

A bundle of nervous energy at the best of times, Drago went through an anxious few weeks with his place on the tour in the balance, after the last European Tour event in Gdynia in February. After losing to Robin Hull in the first qualifying round of the World Championship, the matter was out of his hands.

“It was nerve-racking, I really went through it,” said the player who first turned pro in 1985. “I was up and down to Sheffield, watching the matches. For a while I thought I was safe, then Peter Lines rang me and said that if Kyren Wilson gets to the quarter-finals at the Crucible he will knock me off the tour. I was so nervous, I just wanted it to end, one way or another. But when Robbie Williams qualified, it meant Jimmy White was the one in danger.

“In the end, both Jimmy and I survived, and we are both relieved because I couldn’t live on the tour without him, and vice-versa.”

Drago made a strong start to the new season with a 5-3 win over Mike Dunn to qualify for Wuxi. “I played very well and if I keep that up I can win matches,” said the veteran cueman. “I’ll put my neck on the line and say I’m going to get some good results. My form is always up or down, never in the middle.”

The Tornado’s main practice partner is another adopted Londoner with Mediterranean roots: Michael Georgiou. The 26-year-old, of Greek-Cypriot origin, came through Q School last month to earn a second spell on the tour. “Michael is a very good player and he should have been on the tour for a while,” said Drago. “People were surprised when he beat Aditya Mehta 5-0 to qualify for Wuxi, but I wasn’t. I didn’t get to play with him this week because he has a part time job working for his uncle so he plays in the evenings, whereas I usually practise in the morning. But we play a lot together and I hope he does well this season.”

Drago, a notoriously bad flier, heads for the Far East on Saturday but will cram in as much World Cup viewing as he can before he steps on the plane. “I will watch Brazil tonight, then three games tomorrow,” said the Juventus fan. “On Saturday I’m flying first to Amsterdam and I’ll watch the England v Italy game there. I actually prefer to watch that one on my own because I have divided loyalties as my grand-father was Italian. Hopefully once we’re in China there will be a chance to watch more.”

A documentary about Drago was recently released. “Try to count the number of bleeps!” he joked. “A lot of people texted me saying they enjoyed it, I’ve had really good feedback. Hopefully lots more people will watch it.”