With just two weeks to go until the start of the 2011 World Championships played at his favourite venue the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, I caught up with the 2006 Champion and twice runner up Graeme Dott as he prepared for his first round encounter with Mark King.
Graeme’s autobiography Frame of Mind has just hit the shelves, and it is a fascinating read. He pulls no punches as he takes us from his roots in the harshest of environments of the religiously divided inner city council estates of Glasgow, all the way to his three world finals with all the highs and significant lows along the way.
In the previous tournament to the interview, the China Open in Beijing which was eventually won by Judd Trump, Graeme lost in the first round to yet another rising star from the East, Li Hang.
You were sent home early from the China Open following a surprise defeat to wildcard and World Under 21 runner up Li Hang in round 1. How was the match from your perspective, and after the initial disappointment was it a blessing in disguise to come home early and have a few extra days preparation time for the Crucible?
The boy played really well to be fair. You wouldn’t expect a wildcard to hit two century breaks, an 80 and a 70 odd in the last frame so he played very well. I didn’t think I played that well myself, but I’ve played a lot worse and won matches. So even though I was disappointed, there wasn’t too much I could’ve done and as you said it wasn’t such a bad thing because it gives me more time to prepare for the World (Championships). But I would still rather have won.
Do you think the China Open being where it is in the calendar is seen more as a Crucible warm up event by the players than the important event it should be in its own right?
It probably is but to be honest I think of a few tournaments as warm up because I try and pace myself through the season to be ready for the World Championships. I still try in every tournament but they’re all warm up events for me. I don’t think anybody else sees it like that but I do.
How do you prepare for the World Championships around this time with only a couple of weeks left to go?
I normally try and peak when I get there. There’s only been two occasions when I’ve turned up at the Crucible feeling my game was really good and both times I lost first round! Generally I quite like the idea of not being ready and needing to find something at the Crucible. I know a lot of people would think that’s stupid but it works for me and it’s what I like doing.
It worked for Alex Higgins in 1982 of course…
I think it’s worked for a lot of people. If you look through all the people who have reached the final, a lot of them have not had a great year. Perhaps it’s because they’re fresher than those who have.
Was it a bad sign then when you won the China Open?
It could’ve been, but when I won that I was also there doing an exhibition tour for three weeks. And then I came back and stupidly I practiced when in hindsight maybe I shouldn’t have. I practiced really hard and I was completely burnt out when I got to the Crucible.
So how much practice are you putting in now?
Not as much as a lot of people would think you are doing. I’m still practicing, but I don’t go hell for leather and do as much as I possibly can because if you do that you can burn yourself out and it’s such a long tournament. So all I’ll be doing now is getting myself ready to a point where I think I’m playing pretty good, and then that’s that – shut your eyes and hope for the best when you get there.
Which were the two occasions when you got to the Crucible feeling you were playing really well?
Well that was one of them, 2007. I won the China Open and I was playing better than anybody at the time and my game was perfect, and I got to the Crucible and couldn’t pot a ball! And the other time I was happy with my game was the year Steve Davis beat me (2000) and again, I played dreadful!
You face Mark King in round one and on paper it looks like it could be an epic battle. In your book you describe him as being like a limpet who never knows when he’s beaten and you faced him in 2004 at the same stage where you edged him 10-9. How does knowing your opponent weeks in advance affect you? Do you develop a game plan? Are you thinking about it all the time?
When you build up to a tournament for as long as this it’s hard not to think about it! I can’t stop thinking about Mark King, that’s just the way it is and I’m fairly sure Mark King will be thinking about me as well.
I don’t have a game plan as such because you never know how you’re going to be when you get there. I used to do that sort of stuff, but then if I turn up and I’m not playing that well I then need to change my game plan, so it’s pointless having one to start with. So I will see how the game unfolds when I get there.
It’s going to be a tough match, Mark is very experienced and he’s been there plenty of times and I know he’s not going to bottle it which is what a lot of players can do at the Crucible.
Going back to knowing your opponent well in advance, how did it affect you in 2007 when you knew you would face Ian McCulloch, because you said after the match that he was the worst draw you could have had?
I think it’s relatively well documented that I don’t like playing slow players, I find it very hard. But he wasn’t just slow, the pace he played at was beyond belief! I think a stronger referee would definitely have warned him that he was playing too slow.
But it was still my fault, regardless of what he did. If I had been playing well, I would have just laughed at him for doing what he was doing! It would’ve been funny, watching him going to those tactics to try and win the game.
But the fact I was playing that bad just made me so frustrated. You could hear the crowd tutting when he was at the table – he was just at it! But I played that bad my mum could’ve beaten me! But it’s not nice having to watch someone try and play that slow just to beat me.
It’s probably a good job you didn’t draw Rory McLeod this time then because I saw him at the EIS in the qualifiers and he sure wasn’t rushing around the table!
When the draw was coming out I didn’t really want to face Rory. It’s not that I can’t beat a slow player, I just don’t really enjoy it. I get too frustrated. I sit in my seat thinking “JUST HIT THE BALL!!!!”
There’s no need for it, players playing that slow. I’ve changed my game and I’m a lot more attacking now but I was never as slow as that. I just don’t understand why people need to take that length of time to play a shot.
How far into the draw do you look before the event starts? Are you aware of who is in your section and who you could possibly face further in the tournament or is it too distracting to look ahead of the first match?
I think it’s good to see the draw but I don’t look ahead, I just look to Mark King. I do know who I could play virtually all the way through but really I look at Mark King because that’ll be a hard enough game as it is.
Who are the challengers for the title this year in your opinion?
John Higgins has got to be the favourite. The way he plays and the consistency of his game makes him favourite but after John Higgins it’s completely wide open. I couldn’t pick anybody else out apart from John.
What would it mean for you to win another world title?
Obviously it would mean the world. It’s what you prepare for all year so it would be fantastic. I’m not under as much pressure as some of the other players because I’ve already won it and been in a couple of finals but it would still be incredible to keep the good run going that I’ve had in the World Championships.