Phil Haigh ✍️
Before the glamour of the Crucible comes the World Snooker Championship qualifiers, and players, not only fighting for a place at the sport’s most famous arena, but for their careers.
A number of players head to the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield this week knowing they must win games to keep their place on the professional tour, adding a generous dollop of pressure to the already hugely important tournament.
If they don’t get the wins they need to climb the rankings, it is the prospect of Q School over the summer to return to the tour, and while it is impossible to ignore that possibility, those in danger are doing all they can to focus on the job in hand.
World number 75 Steven Hallworth says there is a tinge of anxiety knowing his professional status is on the line in the coming days, but is feeling good in his game and as relaxed as he can be, given the situation.
‘I’m alright at the minute,’ Hallworth told Metro.co.uk before heading to Sheffield. ‘It is at the back of my mind that my tour card’s on the line this year.
‘There’s a little bit of anxiety about it, but I’ve just got to push that to the back of my mind. I got to the last round [of qualifying] last year and I feel that I’m a much better player this year, just the results haven’t gone my way.
‘If I play well I can give anyone a game, I’m just trying to be patient, it’s just a matter of time till results come, but obviously there is a niggling thought in the back of my head about the tour card, but I’m trying not to think about it. If I play well I’ll do alright, if I don’t, I think I’m still playing well enough to get through Q School.’
Hallworth is unsure how many wins will keep him on the tour – too much depends on other players’ results – but Peter Devlin knows he will have to win four games, secure a Crucible debut and with it another two-year tour card.
It is a huge task ahead of the world number 94, but one that makes it easier to focus just on the next match rather than worry about what is to come later.
‘It would be more nerve-racking if I was a bit closer to being able to stay on,’ Peter explained. ‘I’m four matches away so it’s not really an issue for me, I’m not thinking about that, I’m sure I will if I get to round four.
‘It’s in the back of my mind, there’s plenty of people in the draw in the same boat. If I get to round four I’ll be thinking about turning pro, it’ll be like the final round of Q School again, but not only turning pro, getting to the Crucible.
‘At the minute I’m just thinking about getting as many wins as I can, every match is worth £5,000 so just trying to bank enough money so I can afford a year of the amateur circuit, or Q School and all the costs with that. It’s a good opportunity to earn some money and enough to keep going for a while longer.
‘One match at a time, clock up the money, if I get to round four I’ll think about it. If I got to the Crucible and the two-year tour card it wouldn’t get better than that, I’d be so excited I’d probably go and win the Worlds!’
It has been a tricky season for both men after encouraging first years on tour, which is why they now head to Sheffield fighting for survival.
The structure of the calendar changed this season, with qualifying held separately to the main events of many tournaments, which has made it difficult for the lower-ranked players to gain any momentum.
‘Hopefully I can get the first round out the way, get some confidence, get settled, get used to the tables and the atmosphere,’ Devlin said of World Championship qualifying.
‘When I’m comfortable I can produce the results. I’ve not been able to do that this season, the structure of the season has been horrible for me. When you do win a match there’s no momentum or confidence to carry forward because you might not be playing for another month.
‘I’ve had a couple of good wins against [Alex] Ursenbacher and Matthew Stevens. Feel good, want to bring on the next one, but there isn’t a next one. There’s weeks off, it’s been horrible.
‘It’s been an experience, great learning curve, I’ve enjoyed being on tour, but this has killed it a bit this season.
‘If someone told me this is what the pro tour is like, I’d have said, “Dear me, that’s not great.” I’d still want to do it, because it’s always been a dream, but this is not something as a kid you’d look at and think you’d want to do. It’s not glamorous down the rankings.’
Devlin will be putting his difficult time behind him in Sheffield, though, with the allure of the World Championship undeniable.
‘I’m looking forward to the comp, it’s the Worlds so you’re always going to be up for it,’ he said.
‘Whether it’s the last tournament of my first stint on tour, or whether it’s the start of another one, it is the Worlds, it’s always going to get you going, it is exciting.’
Hallworth is also relishing another crack at the sport’s biggest tournament and hopefully ‘getting his teeth into’ the final round of qualifying when matches extend to best of 19 from best of 11, as he did last year.
‘I’m looking forward to it, getting stuck into a longer format, which I think suits me as I can be a bit of a slow starter,’ he said. ‘I really want to get to that best of 19 and get my teeth into it. It’s a treat, you look forward to it, we never get to play them.
‘It was great against Gary [Wilson] last season in the last round, I enjoyed it. Even though I was gutted after. He played really good stuff, had seven breaks over 70.
‘There are more longer matches as you get up the rankings, it’s an incentive to get up there.
‘I’m feeling good, everything’s alright, got some time off work from the pub, it’s all good at home so I’m focussing on practice, turning up and hopefully play well.’
Hallworth takes on either Yuan Sijun or Ross Muir in the second round on Friday, while Devlin comes in at round one against Belgian youngster Yorrit Hoes on Tuesday.
There will be tension for 10 days at the EIS, with glory and relief for some and terrible lows for others, before the wider public even tune into the ‘start’ of the World Championship on 16 April.
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