I thought my start to the year couldn’t get any better after winning in China last month – but how wrong was I? Lifting the IPA World Championship crown was another huge cherry on the cake, and it was completely unexpected too, as well as very emotional.
It was a sensational week down at the Lakeside, the home of darts. But this time it was overtaken by pool tables, and the IPA put on a great show for all the fans who were there to watch.
I’d committed myself to taking part in this tournament, even though my future in pool lies away from the IPA, but I’d given my word that I’d compete and I was happy to do so. I just didn’t expect to be holding aloft the trophy at the end of it, and that’s the truth.
It was my first English 8-Ball event in a long time, and I’d not even played the game at any level for five months. The contrast between that and Chinese 8-Ball couldn’t be further apart, and I didn’t hold much hope of doing well.
But you don’t forget how to play the game, and after a couple of matches I soon started to settle in. And what many people probably didn’t realise is that I was playing with a snooker cue!
I’d played snooker the week before the IPAs and then, when I picked up my cue for a practice session at English 8-Ball, it was like using a chopstick. The tip on my snooker cue is 9.5mm, whereas on my pool cue it is 8.5mm. But I’ve been so used to playing with my Chinese 8-Ball cue, which is 11.7mm, that I just couldn’t play with my English cue, the difference was huge.
So I settled for something in between and used my snooker cue at the Lakeside. And look what happened! I think I’ve been missing something all these years!
To have won the title using a snooker cue, having not played for so long and having to get used to another set of rules again, it is certainly up there with my greatest achievements.
But it doesn’t change anything as far as my long-term plans are concerned, I am still very much focused on China. So this was a one-off, a nice little bonus, and a great way to bow out of the IPA.
I’ve been playing English 8-Ball since I was seven and, to play my last-ever match after 23 amazing years and to win, was very emotional. There was no better way to go out.
However, I’ve got to be true to myself and admit that, while I am delighted to be crowned IPA world champion, it doesn’t rank as highly as my three other world titles in English pool. I’m not the sort of person to make out it’s something when it’s not. There were some big-name players missing at the Lakeside and, since the divide in the sport, it has not been the same.
That’s not to take anything away from the players who were there, some great ones indeed. Clint I’Anson, who I beat in the final, is a fantastic player and has improved more than any other over the last 18 months, and I see no reason why he cannot dominate the sport. He’s the future of the game.
The Lakeside was a superb venue, the IPA did a fantastic job, and the fact that the tournament will be shown on Sky Sports Premier soon is of great credit to them. For me, it was the perfect way to bring the curtain down.