World number 46 Ben Woollaston can’t wait for the opportunity to perform in front of his home support at the upcoming British Open, which takes place at the Morningside Arena in Leicester.
After over a year of competing behind closed doors, with restricted backstage numbers and extensive safety regulations, the British Open will see fans welcomed back to the World Snooker Tour for the first time, other than at the World Championship, since March 2020.
It presents an opportunity for Woollaston to not only regain the buzz of playing for a crowd, but also for his family to see him in action.
Woollaston said: “It will be fantastic. It’s literally a few minutes from where I practise. To have an event like that on your doorstep is great. The Championship League, at the same venue, will act as a good warm up and hopefully it can help me into some good form ahead of the British Open.
“I’ve never played in front of crowds in Leicester before, so that will be a new experience. I think my oldest son Edward might come to watch, which will be really nice. He’s never knowingly been to see me play before. I know the British Open is a shorter format so he might be able to stick with it!”
In recent times Leicester has become somewhat of a snooker hotbed, with World Champion Mark Selby, Tom Ford, Louis Heathcote and Joe O’Connor also on the professional circuit.
Woollaston believes that the scale and depth of Leicester’s professional contingent is something which the city can take great pride in.
“To have five players coming from one city is quite impressive. I think in the past there have always been good amateurs in Leicester. All of the amateur tournaments used to be held in Malcolm Thorne’s club and that was a great environment to produce players. Myself and Tom had so much access to facing top class opposition week in and week out. Joe and Louis were a bit after that, but I think in many ways their development was down to Mark. They have seen and been inspired by what he has achieved in the sport. They both started from a pool background and so did Mark.”
Away from the baize, Woollaston realised a dream yesterday when he got to see his tennis hero Novak Djokovic in action on Centre Court at Wimbledon. World number one Djokovic beat Christian Garin in straight sets to book a quarter-final slot.
Former Welsh Open finalist Woollaston is an avid tennis fan and spent hours scouring the official Wimbledon website in a bid to clinch spaces to see the Serbian in action. Eventually he landed his golden ticket.
“I kept refreshing the website all day to get the seats. You have to pounce the second they become available, otherwise you will miss out. I had about a dozen goes at it before being successful. I remember there was one year where there were 300,000 people online trying to get just 3000 tickets, although I actually did get one that year.
“I’ve been on centre court before and seen Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Andy Murray, but Novak Djokovic is my favourite player by a mile and I’d never seen him play. He doesn’t get all that much support from the crowd, but it was amazing for me to see him for the first time.
“The seats were fantastic. They were just to the side of the Royal Box. Wherever you are sat on Centre Court, it is an amazing view, but these were very good seats. They weren’t in the Royal Box, but we did spot that Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield were just ten or 11 rows away from us.”
Woollaston decided to give up eating meat last year, with the intention of seeing how long he could keep it up. Over a year on and he is still refraining from eating meat and believes he is reaping the rewards in terms of his health. With the new season just weeks away, 34-year-old Woollaston is keen to improve on his showing last term, where he notched up just two last 16 appearances.
“I’m am eating fish sometimes, but I haven’t had any meat for nearly 18 months now. I just feel happier doing that and it is an easy enough thought for me really. I was on the verge of a vegan diet before, but now I do have cheese and things like that. I suppose I’m classed as a pescatarian now!
“I generally felt happy with how I played last season, but I was hit hard in terms of my ranking by losing in the first round at the UK Championship and the World Championship. Hopefully this year I can go on a deep run. I feel ready to go on one.”
Tickets for the British Open, which runs from August 16 to 22, are now available. Secure your chance to witness some of the best players on the planet for as little as £5. Click here to buy now.