Phil Haigh ✍️
Zhou Yuelong had a very disappointing campaign last time around, but confident again, with a new cue and already some fine results this season, he is a threat once more.
The 24-year-old reached just one quarter-final over the entire 2021/22 season, but has already improved on that, making it to the Northern Ireland Open final last month, only losing out to home town hero Mark Allen.
The world number 21 has since come through qualifying to make it to the main stages of the UK Championship, with wins over Michael White and Jak Jones, and he feels confidence building again.
‘I got confidence from Northern Ireland and I keep this feeling till now, I’ve kept the confidence,’ Zhou said after beating Jones in his final UK qualifier.
On his run to the final in Belfast he said: ‘I’m not really proud, but it didn’t really hurt either, it’s just normal. If I won I’d definitely be happy, but if I don’t win I need to keep going at the next tournament
‘I’m not losing the confidence, he [Allen] played well, so I take the confidence here to Sheffield for the UK Championship and then I will take it to York.’
On his impressive return to form of late, Zhou reckons a change of hardware has helped, saying: ‘Maybe the reason is because I have a new cue, there’s more belief in myself to pot important balls, also control the cue ball much better. Every shot I feel better and more comfortable.’
There was little wrong with Zhou’s game before, though, with his quiet season last time around a little confusing, although it makes sense when he explains it.
‘I think, I don’t want to make an excuse, but to be honest I think last season started well, British Open quarter-final, but then I got Covid,’ he said.
‘Quarantine for 14 days, I missed matches at the Scottish Open, English Open, so then I missed the Grand Prix.
‘Also last year I was close to the top 16, and it was only Xintong getting to the UK final that stopped me getting to the Masters.
‘I think I was unlucky, every chance I had was missed, it made me a little bit sad.
‘It was a little bit of problem for my game, because after that I was so hungry to win my matches to gain my points back that it put pressure on me. In the World Championship I didn’t play well and lost in qualifying.’
It was a shame for Zhou’s progression because he is one of the best young players in the sport, but he appears to have put the disappointing year behind him and will hope for another good result in York when he takes on Yan Bingtao in the last 32.
Zhou does not play with Yan and Zhao Xintong in Sheffield, instead living in Darlington where he plays with the likes of Hossein Vafaei and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, but he regularly visits his best pal in South Yorkshire.
‘Xintong’s my best friend, we’re really close for 15 years,’ he said. ‘Last two years I moved to Darlington, but we still speak, every month I come to Sheffield to meet and have food.
‘Darlington is quiet, not a lot of shops or restaurants, but lots of good snooker.’
Zhou takes on Yan at 1pm on Monday 14 November at the Barbican in York.
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