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Ursenbacher Clears Mind For Q School Challenge

Mental demons have caused Alexander Ursenbacher to endure a difficult two seasons and drop off the tour, but he now believes he has his mind in the right place to contend for one of the eight available professional places at Q School.

Q School runs from May 26 to June 6 in Leicester.

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Swiss number one Ursenbacher’s 10-7 defeat to Alfie Burden at Crucible qualifying ended his most recent spell as a professional. His decline in the world rankings came off the back of a severe loss in form, which saw him win only six matches in knockout events last term.

The Basel cueman’s difficulties have originated from a psychological block, which he developed when trying to discover technical reasons behind his success in the 19/20 and 20/21 seasons.

“I’ve had a lot of mental problems with my game. I’ve just had to sort my head out. I went from winning a few matches at every tournament and being as high as 41st in the world, to not being able to win a single match,” said 27-year-old Ursenbacher.

“I am always looking for a key to success and when I had this good form, I tried to find out how I did it. I wanted to be able to have something in my hands that I could use if things went badly. There is no such thing. Snooker is something you need to do naturally and automatically. It is like playing tennis or football in that regard. You don’t think, you just act. The trouble is that there is a lot of time to think in snooker. I got myself into a hole that I couldn’t get out of. You could set up a lineup for me and I wouldn’t even make 20. It was just ridiculous. I was thinking about my aiming all the time.

“Now I’ve dropped off the tour, the pressure has come off and I’m playing well again. That is because I’m not thinking about it. I’m just doing it. I realised there is nothing to think about. It’s funny because when I was at home, I got a bit drunk one day and just played. I actually played really well and I realised that it was because I wasn’t thinking about aiming or technique. I was just simply playing. I seem to be me my old self again. I just need to put the hours in and I think I will do well.”

Ursenbacher has always been a player for the big occasion and he has showcased some of his best performances against the greatest opponent of them all, seven-time World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan. Ursenbacher has beaten the Rocket in all three of their meetings in matches which are best of seven or longer. One of those matches came last season when he defeated O’Sullivan at the British Open. Ursenbacher believes there is something about facing the 39-time ranking event winner which brings out the best in him.

Ursenbacher explained: “When I play top players that aren’t Ronnie, I struggle as I feel I have to prove something. When I play Ronnie, he just makes me focus. I refuse to not have the perfect attitude and mindset against him. He was actually one of the only players I beat last season. I felt bad heading into the game, but five minutes beforehand on the practice table in Milton Keynes it was all gone. I was so motivated, because my mum and friend were there, to do well. It was just all clear for me. I have nothing to lose against him and I know I can do it. I can’t really explain it, but he just gets the best out of me.”

Ursenbacher is currently preparing for Q School in his new UK base of Northampton, where he was practising regularly last season with five-time ranking event winner Kyren Wilson. The Swiss cueman admits that his sessions playing against Wilson have helped to harden him up and shown him the level required to succeed at the top of the sport.

Looking ahead to Q School, Ursenbacher is aware of the challenges which he faces. However, he is taking solace from his record in the event, having run the gauntlet and earned tour cards through Q School on two previous occasions.

“Kyren is very professional. Once we start playing it is about the win. All he is trying to do is win. He is so tough. It makes you realise where you have to get. You just have to keep pushing and pushing and one day the door is going to open up and you will be there. It is special practising with him because he just doesn’t give you anything.

“I’ve played Q School four times and I’ve been in a final round four times. I’ve actually qualified two of the four. It is really tough though and it is getting harder every year. If you can just be yourself then you have the best chance. It is really hard to stay positive in Q School. Each day is filled with pressure and tension. If I get through, I am going to be the happiest person alive. I am trying to not think too negatively, because a few years ago I said on camera that I would promise myself never to play Q School again. Sometimes you just have to stand up and do it. I feel good going into it so we will see what happens.”

The emotions attached to dropping off the tour were heightened recently for Ursenbacher when close friend Luca Brecel sensationally won a maiden World Championship title earlier this month. Ursenbacher was over the moon for Brecel, who he admits has done much to help him during his recent slump. He believes that the victory will be a momentous one for snooker in Continental Europe.

“The moment Luca won the final I cried. I was so happy for him and I was a bit sad because I’d just fallen off. There were a lot of emotions going on. When I saw him at the Vienna Open a few days later I gave him a hug and a kiss. What he has achieved for Continental Europe and Belgium is indescribable. People underestimate how good he really is, but it didn’t surprise me at all that he won it. The way he has done it, going from never winning a match there to winning the whole tournament is incredible. I couldn’t be happier for him.

“People know what snooker is now in Belgium. It is going to come slowly, but snooker is going to really grow. If he keeps winning and maybe I do as well, then I think the sport is going to become massive in Europe. He has taken that first step and it is amazing.

“We talk quite a lot and I’ve shared problems I have with him. The advice he has given me is worth gold because he is so natural at what he does. We are very similar character-wise. He has helped me quite a bit through this time. He is a very good person, a very good friend and a phenomenal player.”