Snooker Islander Mark Philipps is a British expatriate living in Brazil. He recently attended the unfairly castigated Brazilian Masters event held in the exclusive Costão do Santinho resort where he managed to grab an interview with Brazil’s best snooker player: Igor Figuereido. Igor received a wildcard to the main tour for the 2010/11 season after Barry Hearn became chairman of World Snooker. He did well enough to retain his tour spot for the current season, but unable to find the necessary funding he returned home to Brazil leaving a gap in the drawsheet of every ranking event since. The interview took place following his 4-2 victory over Jamie Cope and before his match against Graeme Dott which he went on to lose 4-2.
Igor, congratulations on yesterday’s match. You played very well against the number 18 in the world, Jamie Cope, please give me your thoughts on the game.
It was a wonderful night, not just for me but for Brazilians in general. I think there was a big TV audience and it was a great match with some good breaks. It was more than perfect. I don’t think Jamie played too well, but I think I showed my full potential and managed to stay calm.
There were two things that particularly impressed me. The first was that you managed to show your touch game right from the off. I think you made 53 early in the first frame, played some lovely touch shots and didn’t show any nerves.
Yes, I spent two years outside Brazil, playing first as an amateur and then in the professional ranks and learned how to practice, gained a lot of experience and how to control my nerves too. This experience helped me to stay in control and show my true game yesterday.
The second thing that impressed me was after Cope had cleared up to win the 5th frame. At this stage you could have collapsed but came back straightaway with a 114.
That’s right. In the fifth I screwed back from the black with side and missed position on the yellow. Cope cleared up, but I managed to get in early in the next and make the century, which showed how calm I was.
By the way it’s on youtube already.
Yes, yes I heard.
Igor, the first time I heard your name was when you got to the final of the World Amateurs against Alfie Burden. Were you already based in Europe then or had you gone over just for the tournament?
I went to Europe in 2009 to spend a period of time there. I was there with Itamar Santos and Patrick Einsle and was working with a German coach. I had to change my style a little, keep stiller on the shot and I started to play in the PIOS series at the same time. I then went to England and practiced at the Sheffield Academy and when I went to the World Amateurs I’d only been playing on the full-sized tables for a year or so. And I think if I played that final again today the result could have been different. No offence to Alfie Burden, but I’m much more solid now emotionally speaking.
I believe at the time Burden said that you were potting balls from everywhere and he had to hold you back.
Alfie had a good coach, (Nic Barrow) who called him away in-between frames and stopped him from falling apart and encouraged him to hold me back. It’s at times like this that a good coach comes in handy.
What happened after Igor? Were you invited straightaway into the pro ranks?
I finished 12th in the PIOS series and was runner up in the Worlds and as there were some wild cards up for grabs I was offered one, maybe because of the short experience I’d had and my overall results.
Your first year fortunately coincided with Barry Hearn’s first full year and things had improved in a sport that had been practically dead in the water.
Yes, from 7 events suddenly there were 30, all of which I could enter. My first few months went really well and I managed some good results, but then I entered into a bit of a depression, from being far from my family, particularly my daughter, in a new environment, where everything was different, the food, the culture… I started losing all of my games. Fortunately I’d done so well in the first few months that I still managed to retain my tour card, something which very few of the new people manage to do. But unfortunately my sponsorship ran out and I had to come back, but you can see that I’m still practicing hard. Unfortunately at the moment I’m not receiving any help and it’s not possible to return.
But here you’ve won your first game and you’re in the next round against Graeme Dott. More people will be watching from Brazil so are you working on a new sponsor?
I really would like to go back, but here in Brazil we need to work much more on the marketing aspect of snooker so that it receives the same sort of investment as other sports. This isn’t just for me, but for snooker as whole. But yes, I really would like to return.
And Barry Hearn I’m sure appreciates having a Brazilian do well to assist his global push?
For sure, a South American player can only help.
What’s the situation with your ranking? I know the system is more dynamic these days.
I reached 65 but went down after a good start, and as I haven’t played since March it must have dropped to around 100. Even if I went back right away I’d have to win 2/3 events and still wouldn’t be guaranteed.
I would have to play the Q-school as I don’t think I’d win another wild card. It’d be a dream if I did but I think I’ll have to do it the hard way and qualify.
At least the Q-school is better than the old entry system.
Yes it’s played over a month so there’s much less suffering and of course it’s much cheaper. It’s tough for me because I fought a lot to get on tour, it wasn’t handed to me and in the end I’ve just had to give my tour card away.
Now a slightly more controversial question. Your place in the World Cup that took place in Thailand should have been more secure even than John Higgins’s place for Scotland, for example, seeing as you were not only the best ranked player in Brazil but the only one on tour. Why didn’t you go?
World Snooker sent me a letter saying that my place was assured as I was the only professional player from Brazil, but the Federation here wanted me to play for a place that I already had guaranteed, with other Brazilian players. They said if you don’t play you don’t go. So I didn’t go. Unfortunately here the authorities have the attitude that it’s better to favour a certain player or friend than to do well in the competition. This is very bad for the sport. I’m the only four- time champion of Brazil, but I hadn’t played the nationals for 2 years.
So they played the qualifiers and ended up taking my place. I’d really like World Snooker to know about this so that they can see the reality of snooker here and take some action about this kind of thing.
Is this the National Federation of Brazil we’re talking about?
It’s the Liga da Sinuca (National Snooker League). They are also involved in the running of this event (Brazil Masters). There was plenty of repercussion with me not going to Thailand so they didn’t make me play the qualifiers for this event as a kind of compensation.
I thought the whole situation was strange at the time, which is why I asked.
I really wanted to go but my place was grabbed off me.
Do you think this event will be long term? I’m just asking because I thought it was peculiar that they had announced a good venue in São Paulo, where the interest would be much greater, to bring the event down to a very beautiful part of the world that has nothing to do with snooker?
I know the organizers and they brought it down here because they had the support and sponsorship of the resort itself. But I think they’ve been hit in the pocket, because of the lack of spectators, maybe because of the very expensive ticket prices too. What do you pay over there for the World Championship, 20/30 pounds?
It’s been a while, but in the old days I paid 10 pounds for 3 matches in the Masters in London.
I think you can still get these prices at some events. They wanted to make a packet here but these prices are unrealistic not only for Brazil, but the world in general. It would have been better to charge half price and see more people here. For half-price in São Paulo the venue would have been full all the time. I’ve spoken to them about holding this in São Paulo next year, because it just has to be there. It doesn’t need to be a ranking event just yet. There does seem to be a movement towards São Paulo though.
What are your plans from here Igor? Can you make a living from snooker in Brazil? Events like these don’t come along all the time, at the minute anyway, so what do you plan to do outside such events?
I can make a living from snooker here but it’s really tough. Who knows after tomorrow whether sponsors will appear, but for now I give classes and snooker clinics. I think there are only two of us in Brazil capable of giving such clinics. But it’s tough. We need to change the vision of sponsors here, but maybe after my game yesterday things will get better and a few more doors will open for everyone. In Thailand for instance, promising players there earn a salary from the government with which can keep their family and they can get on with their games. No-one will encourage their kids to play snooker over here, just football. I guess that’s my dream, to grow the game here, perhaps open an academy in the future to encourage youngsters to play the game and get a few up there in the rankings.
Academies are a new idea but they are beginning to spring up much more now; Ken Doherty has his, there’s the wonderful one in Gloucester.
I lived at the one in Gloucester for a spell and the place is so good, but at the time there were few of the very top players there unfortunately to help me raise my level and I ended up going to Sheffield where I practiced with players such as Ding; But the owner there Paul Mount welcomed me so well there, treated me like a son, and I can only thank him for all that he did for me.
Thanks very much Igor. Good luck in the match tomorrow with Graeme Dott, he played well in his first match, but you’ve got a good chance.
I hope he plays well tomorrow too; just hope I play better (laughs).