Phil Haigh ✍️
At just 22 years old, Yan has accomplished a huge amount, winning the World Amateur Championship at just 14, the World Cup at 15 and his first ranking title at the 2019 Riga Masters aged 19.
This was all trumped by winning the 2021 Masters, beating John Higgins in the final and really announcing himself as a force at the very top of the sport.
Dubbed a future world champion, he enjoyed his best run at the Crucible this year, narrowly losing to Mark Williams in the quarter-finals, but even in defeat he enjoyed the World Championship.
After two years of disruption due to the pandemic, the Crucible was back to ‘normal’ this year and, despite feeling the nerves, Yan loved the experience.
‘I think this year, for me it is the real World Championship,’ Yan told Metro.co.uk. ‘The last two years I’m in the top 16 to play the World Championship, but because of Covid there’s not many people in there.
‘This year was the real World Championship. I was very nervous, there’s a lot of pressure, I can’t sleep the night before, but I was enjoying it on the table.’
The Tiger pulled off a couple of great wins in Sheffield, notably beating defending champion Mark Selby 13-10 in the second round, which included the longest frame in Crucible history at 85 minutes.
‘I was just feeling so tired, we had a very long frame!’ Yan said. ‘Everybody knows how difficult it is to beat Mark Selby at the World Championship, best of 25 match, he’s defending champion.
‘I just knew I need to give him trouble and put him under pressure. Last season I beat Selby three times before the World Championship, every time I took a lot of confidence from that.’
In what is a great compliment to him, Yan has been compared to the four-time world champion, with both players having an excellent all-round game, mentality and fighting spirit.
Yan is not quite ready to put himself in the same bracket as the Jester, but he knows he has time to get there.
‘I think we’re at similar levels, but we’re different players,’ he said. ‘He’s one of the best players in the world, with Ronnie, Higgins, Williams. I need to practice more time and need to do more to get there.
‘I’m so young, I’m just 22, I have so many years to be a professional player. I have a lot to enjoy.’
The world number 15 certainly does have a lot of success to come, but when presented with the idea of still playing deep into his forties, like O’Sullivan, Higgins and Williams, he was clear.
‘No,’ he said. ‘Ronnie winning at 46 is ridiculous. I think when I’m 46 I will have finished snooker by then. Maybe by 40.
‘At 46, winning World Championships! And maybe he’ll win it next year, maybe he’ll win it at 50!’
The current world champion has been working with Yan’s friend and practice partner Zhao Xintong, but has also extended the offer to help to the Tiger.
Yan explained: ‘This year at the World Championship I talked to him in the practice room and he said that he’d come to the academy to coach me, because I told him I need to do better with my cue ball control and to keep breaks going. He said he can coach me.’
The Rocket is not the only snooker legend that Yan has been picking the brain of, although it seems that they all have very similar advice.
‘He [Ronnie] said, just like Stephen Hendry told me, it’s concentration on the balls. You miss an easy ball, you don’t need to not be happy or be angry, just forget this one. You need to play a good shot next shot,’ said Yan.
‘I sometimes lose control of myself, because I feel pressure, I get very nervous, I’ve missed big shots, I’ve been angry losing matches, but I’m better now I think at keeping control of myself. I still get very nervous, but my control is better.
‘I think sometimes I’m not happy, I keep a poker face, but my heart’s not feeling good.
‘That’s what Terry Griffiths told me, I saw him in 2020, he told me if you miss a ball forget it, don’t show anything, onto the next one.
‘Higgins, Selby, it’s just concentration on the table. You don’t know if they’re angry or happy.’
Yan is well placed to succeed with his talent and advice from the likes of O’Sullivan, Hendry and Griffiths, but he is also geographically well placed, based at Victoria’s Academy in Sheffield.
The 22-year-old has lived in the Steel City since his teens and has now gone three years without returning to his native China, not that he minds too much as he is fully settled down in South Yorkshire.
‘Sheffield is home now, I like it. It’s been six years,’ he said. ‘Here is nice and slow, not a very big city like London. Here is more comfortable for people.
‘Shandong is my home city and it’s similar to Sheffield, not very big. I don’t like Beijing and Shanghai, this is more relaxed.
‘Last time in China was three years ago, the 2019 World Open. It’s okay, I don’t miss home too much. I have a life here, playing snooker, my wife and my dog and cats, maybe have a kid in the next few years. Maybe five or six years, I’m just 22.’
Just like his pal Zhao Xintong, Yan does not want to see the World Championship leave his new home town, nor leave the Crucible, which is where he wants to lift the world title one day.
‘I want it to stay here because I think Crucible is very nice and really different to other arenas,’ he said. ‘Otherwise, if it moved, I wouldn’t win it here.’
Many are tipping Yan for a world title – or perhaps multiple world titles – over his career, but he is not getting ahead of himself just yet. His immediate aim is to secure a trip to Bolton in October.
Asked for his goals this season he said: ‘I think I want to win something because I don’t have a Champion of Champions place, I just want one ranking title, any tournament.’
As Yan continues to develop into one of the most difficult players to beat in the sport, his goal for the season looks very achievable.
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