Interview with Kyren Wilson

by Roland Cox

20 year old Kyren Wilson from Kettering in Northamptonshire is one of the new breed of snooker player on the verge of breaking through to bigger and better things. Kyren already has the experience of a main tour season under his belt, however his chance of remaining on tour ended with a grindathon at the hands of Rory McLeod in the 2011 World Championship qualifiers; the same event which eventually saw Rory qualify for the Crucible and make his own headlines for giving Ricky Walden and John Higgins the infamous “dentist’s chair” treatment! Since then Kyren has been waiting patiently for his chance to get back on tour, and with Q School set to start straight after the World Championships has ended he doesn’t have much longer to wait. He was a valuable member of Team Snooker Island in the SWSA Spring Festival with a 100% record (you can see him in action in that event here) and I caught up with him from his practice base in Gloucester just as the 2012 World Championship qualifying event prelim round was getting under way in Sheffield.

Kyren Wilson (click to enlarge)

You’re on the run-in to Q School at the moment so how is your practice going?
Yes it’s going well. The cloth at my club needs re-doing so I’m going to get that done as soon as I can ready for Q School and I’m trying to get down to Gloucester as much as I can and I’m here at the minute, so I’m going to be playing half the week in Gloucester and half the week at home. The tables have just been redone here so they’re playing perfect and I’ve got some good players to practice against because they’re all practicing for the Worlds at the minute. I’ve been playing Peter Ebdon a lot as well and Joe Perry so they’ve been bringing my game on a lot.

You’ve obviously done Ebdon some good as well as he’s just won the China Open!
I think it’s good for both of us because practicing with him he can show me a lot more of the safety game, and because I’m one of the younger modern players that goes for a lot of shots it might help him for when he comes up against the likes of Judd Trump so I’d like to think we help each other.

Did you know how good his form was going into China?
Yes he’s been playing very solid and consistent against me in practice and he tries 100% in practice just the same as he does in tournaments, so when you’re doing that you’re going to be mentally prepared going into tournaments. I think a lot of players mess about in practice but he plays the correct shots and plays as he would in tournaments so yes, I knew he was coming into form.

He takes the same amount of time? So that means for example he can be 5 minutes into a break and only be on 20?!
To be honest in practice I don’t actually think he’s that slow. That’s not to say he rushes around and is only slow in tournaments, but probably because there’s no pressure in practice that probably allows himself to play a bit quicker.

How do you think he’ll do under the shot clock conditions in the Premier League?
Well you don’t know do you? I think he’ll probably struggle for the first couple of matches but I think he’s the sort of player that adapts quite well under different conditions, and obviously he’s a World Champion so can play under pressure. I think he’ll struggle for the first couple of matches like John Higgins and Neil Robertson did, but I think he’ll be ok in the end.

What are your thoughts on the shot clock?
I love it; I wish it was in ranking events. I played some horrendously slow players last year in ranking events. I’m not going to name names but if there had been a shot clock then I think there’d have been a different scoreline because I’m a natural fluent player that gets on with it and I think some people bog the game down just to stop you from playing. So I’d love it to be in ranking events although I can’t see it happening.

Have you just got a new cue?
Yes I’ve just got a new John Parris cue. I had problems with my old cue, I had so much work done to it that it just wasn’t playing the same as how it used to; the balance and weight just wasn’t right. John said he’d make me a cue last year, so I ended up getting it and I’ve only had it for a week and already I’m scoring so heavily and I’m finding myself so much more consistent, even in practice. It feels like it’s my cue already. Some people struggle to get used to a new cue but I’ve got used to it really quickly and I don’t think I’ll ever change it. I think this will be my cue for life.

I’m noticing a trend here! Several players have had replica cues made by him and are very happy with the result.
Yes this was similar to my old cue, it’s a bit thicker at the top and I’ve got a different pattern because I fancied a change but it does play very similar to my old cue but because it’s been made from scratch and hasn’t been messed about with it just feels lovely.

Is it a two piece?
It’s a one piece; I love my one piece cues!

How did you start out playing snooker?
It was actually because of Peter Ebdon. I used to play a lot of pool; I played for Northamptonshire county pool team, I was very good at pool and had trials for England at about 10-12 years old. But when I was about 6 years old Peter Ebdon was doing a charity pool match and I went and I got to play a frame with him, and he broke off and I cleared up from the break. So he said to my mum and dad that I was so naturally talented that I needed to get into snooker so from there on I started playing snooker. You couldn’t get me off the table after that!

How was your junior career?
It was good. I made my first century when I was about 11 years old and from then on I started entering tournaments. I won my first tournament when I was 12 years old and it was only a plate competition but at the time it was massive for me. (A plate competition is a knock out for first round losers of the main event common in amateur events). I used to win a lot of Coalville events (Malcolm Thorne run junior events) and the Rushden Windmills club used to have an under 21s tournament and I won that whole series a couple of times but probably my best years were when I was 14-16 years old. At 14 I won the junior festival at Pontins and I beat Jack Lisowski and Sam Craigie who had both won the festival before that and then at 15 and 16 I started to win Premier junior tours at the ESBA events and I made my first tournament maximum in a junior prem tour. And around then just before I got on the main tour I won an ESBA pro-ticket tour event and I got to the final of a PIOS (Pontins International Open Series) and won a PIOS. So I had a good junior career really. I would like to have won a few more prestigious events like the ESBA under 16s and under 21s but they were quite tough back then because in my age group it was very strong.

To get to play the best of 17 in the UK was a bit surreal because this is what I’d been working for and what I turned professional for.

Who were your peers then? Are your talking Judd or was he in the next age group above you?
I think he was 2 years before me but in my age group were Jack Lisowski, Liam Highfield, Stephen Craigie, Adam Duffy and people like that.

Can you tell us a bit about the PIOS because there are people reading this who don’t know that much about it? It played a big part in the amateur scene didn’t it so what was it like in terms of experience and pressure and atmosphere?
It was very, very tough! There must’ve been about 200 players in it and you had to finish in the top 8 spots out of everyone which even sounds ridiculously hard! In there you had very experienced players who had dropped off the main tour that were trying to get back on like Mike Hallett, so it was tough and it was very nerve wracking as well because once you had a good run you had it in your head that you needed to get so far in the next event to stay in the top 8. But I enjoyed it because it was over a year so if you had a bad tournament you could go home and work hard and come back for a good next tournament. That’s where the Q School varies because if you have a bad period you’re going to struggle through the 3 weeks but saying that, if you have a good week you’re straight on (to the main tour).

You were on the main tour for the 2010/11 season. Looking at the big events i.e. the two session match tournaments, in the UK you beat Paul Davison and Ian McCulloch before losing to Rory McLeod. What do you remember of that event because obviously they are all renowned slow players and good solid match players so not the easiest to play against?
As a junior player I saw it as really good fun playing long matches. Watching the World Championships on the tv where it was best of 19 I used to love it! So to get to play the best of 17 in the UK it was a bit surreal because this is what I’d been working for and what I was here for and turned professional for.

Paul Davison has always been a really tough player to play against and he beat me in a PIOS final the previous year so it was a bit of revenge for me to try and beat him in that UK and I just played very solid snooker.

Against Ian McCulloch it was the same; he beat me in a pro-am when I was about 15 and he’s obviously a very good player and has done well in his career so I knew it was going to be a tough match. The turning point for me in that match was probably about half way through and he was on a free ball. He didn’t nominate what ball to take and I was entitled to question it so I asked the referee if it was a foul because he’s not nominated. He said no because it was clear what ball he was taking for the free ball so I thought ok fine and apologised, and after he took the free ball he was on the blue and taking the mick out of me he called “blue” to the ref and that really, really wound me up! He got me so psyched up that there was no way he was going to beat me! He was flying from there as well and he must have had about 3 or 4 breaks over 50 straight after that, but I was so determined because he annoyed me so much that I had to beat him. So that was probably his downfall, psyching me up!

(laughs) I love that answer because I can picture it happening!
I was sat in my chair and when he was at the table I was just looking at reds and visualising potting them and it made me feel so strong and that I was going to win. I think it went 8-8 and I still knew I was going to win and he gave me one chance and I made a 50 or 60 off it. So that was a good match for me and put me in good stead for the rest of the season.

To play Rory in the next round I couldn’t really have asked for a worse draw. He’s from the same club as me so it’s never nice to play somebody that you practice with and he doesn’t play a similar game to me which was always going to be tough as well.

You knew what to expect because you practice with him?
I think they play different in practice so I didn’t really know what to expect. When it comes to match conditions some people just do anything they can to win. So definitely for when I get back on tour it’s given me a lot of experience so if I do end up playing that sort of player again I know what I need to do.

So to the World Championships you beat a few qualifiers including Joe Swail which must’ve been a big match for you given his record in the Worlds and then you faced Rory again which I think would have been to keep your place on tour?
From the first round match I was so nervous because the Worlds is what everybody dreams of playing in as a snooker player, and playing in the badminton hall (at the EISS) and having the crowd looking down at you it was peculiar, a bit strange for me. I think I went 5-1 down to Dermot McGlinchey in the first round, and I had a few people come to watch me from my club so I was under a bit of pressure. But I settled down and slowed down a bit because I think I was rushing and I think I won 9 of the next 10 frames or 9 frames in a row, something like that and I didn’t really miss and that made me more excited for my next match because I knew I was playing Joe Swail.

Kyren in the SWSA festival

That was another tough match because it was similar to Ian McCulloch really, I’d put them in the same sort of category. I think I made a 90 in the first frame against Joe and I settled down straight away and I don’t think he caught me, I was always in the lead and I ended up winning it 10-6. I won the last frame on the black and that was a relief to get it out of the way.

Then I think I had to beat Rory and Mark Davis to stay on (tour) or maybe I just had to beat Rory but I remember I was under so much pressure and the game was just ridiculous. I think it was 7 frames in 5 hours!

(laughs) Ooh bloody hell!
Yeah we got pulled off early so you can imagine how I was feeling! I was just distraught and I was under so much pressure just to keep my tour spot as well and I just couldn’t get a rhythm going and it all went to pot really.

This question can only come from Matt at Prosnookerblog and it’s this. How did you feel about losing your place on tour in the circumstances where a year previously you would have stayed on tour?
Basically this has probably been the worst year of my snooker career! To go back to what I see as ground already covered I’ve found it so difficult; I’ve struggled to get motivated for the amateur events. I didn’t have to get motivated for ranking event matches, I was just buzzing. Losing my tour card and seeing players that got on tour with me doing so well has knocked me. But then at the same time it’s made me so hungry for it that once I get back on I feel that nobody will take it from me and there’s no chance I’ll drop back off because I’ve experienced what it’s like to drop off and not be a part of it and I just won’t let it happen again. I see it as a blessing a disguise because people like Neil Robertson dropped off and he’s been World Champion so I can look at it in two ways. I can look at it as I’m not good enough and I’ve lost my tour spot and that’s it, or I can think I’ve lost it and I’m not going to let that happen again and I’m going to get back on and do better and work harder, and that’s the way I’m choosing to look at it.

This year as well as the PTCs which have been a bit contentious in that a lot of amateurs thought it was a way onto tour which hasn’t quite worked out, you played on this Pro Ticket Tour which turned out to be a bit of a faux pas in that there’s not actually a pro ticket at the end of it. Would you have taken part if you realised there wasn’t actually a pro ticket at the end of it?
No I definitely wouldn’t have. Last year I was asked by World Snooker if I wanted to renew my membership to play in the World Championship, but people always said that if you renew your membership you couldn’t play the amateur tournaments.

This is where for example today we’ve had players like John Parrott playing the prelim round for the World Championship because he’s obviously renewed his membership?
Yes for people like that you can understand it because they’re not really interested in entering the amateur tournaments but the World Championships is the big event and it’s a one off, but for people like me who want to try and get back on the tour via any route it’s completely different. Where do you draw the line? Who is amateur and who is pro? You can’t be both can you? But finding out there was no main tour spot for the Pro Ticket Tour I wish I’d have renewed my membership and gone into the Worlds.

Do you think with the PTCs and Q School at the end of the season replacing the secondary tour that it’s a fairer system to get on the tour now or was it better with a secondary tour where you’re playing for promotion?
I think with the PIOS you had the more consistent players coming through because it was over such a long period of time and really you had to do well in at least half of the events to try and get into the top 8. But saying that the Q School gets it out the way quick and it gives everybody a chance worldwide. Me personally I prefer the Q School, but it is hard because if you have a bad match you’ve not got long to put it behind you so you’ve got to be quite strong mentally to put it behind you and get on with the next tournament.

In the professional events that you’ve entered you’ve claimed a few notable scalps like Stephen Hendry, Peter Ebdon, Matthew Stevens, Shaun Murphy, Joe Perry, Michael Holt, so what would you say has been your best result?
I’d probably say beating Hendry was my best result. It was PTC1 and Hendry had just dropped out the top 16 and I can remember going on World Snooker and reading this article about how he hadn’t stopped practicing since the Worlds and he’d been working really hard and it was the best he’s ever felt and all that, and that’s never the best sign really coming from the best player that’s ever played the game! So going into that match I was a bit nervous because obviously I know how good a player he is and he’s still got it, but I was so up for it and just to be able to say you’ve beaten the best player that’s ever played the game I was just gagging to beat him! So when I did beat him it was massive for me because I had a lot of people like my friends who don’t know much about snooker saying to me “You’ve beaten the 7 time World Champion” because he’s an icon in snooker and it’s a good scalp to have. He played really well against me and it was a really good match, we both scored heavy and there was no twitching, it was all fluent big break snooker.

I prefer the Q School, but it is hard because if you have a bad match you’ve not got long to put it behind you so you’ve got to be strong mentally.

You’ve already mentioned that you’ve had a 147 in a match.
I’ve two in competition, I had one at about 16 in an EASB event and last year I had one in the QSP which was the qualifying event for the Q School and I had that in the semi-final against Chris Norbury.

Is it the sort of thing you measure yourself against other players or do you feel it’s something that’s been lost with the number of people making them? Is it something you look to go for when the chance is there or are you more focussed on winning the frame first?
I used to be really bad for it, in practice I used to go for them nearly every frame but now I’ve got the view that I need to play for every shot as if I was in a tournament so I try and play the right shots now. In tournaments as well I used to go for them constantly because it’s a big thing to do and you get a lot of publicity for it but I think I’ve grown up a little bit from that sort of thing and it only wins you one frame so I’m not as obsessed as I used to be.

Who were your main influences in snooker growing up?
It’s definitely got to be Ronnie just through his natural ability, he’s class to watch, you never get bored of watching him. And I’ve always said Peter because of the help he’s given me and the dedication he has for the game.

Of the venues you’ve seen on tv that you’ve not played in yet, Crucible excepted, have you seen any that you’re dying to play in and that you’re looking forward to the chance to qualify for?
The German Masters. It looks fantastic and the fans are amazing in Germany. I remember watching the final between Mark Williams and Mark Selby and the atmosphere was like the old Masters at the Wembley Conference Centre and to play in front of that sort of atmosphere is what I play snooker for. And last year I went out to Hong Kong and China to do some exhibitions and I watched the Shanghai Masters and it was just absolutely unreal. The fans were running to the players at the hotel asking for autographs and it was just vast. They just love their snooker so to get out to China as well would be massive.

Obviously the game seems to be heading in that direction so how do you feel about the fact that when you get your professional status again most of your career will involve a lot of globe-trotting over to China and places like that?
Well I’m not the keenest on travelling but I’m a snooker player so if that’s what I’ve got to do to play snooker and do my job then that’s what I’ve got to do. They love their snooker out there and if that’s where the game has got to go then yeah I’m all up for it. I just want to play snooker at the end of the day and in front of those crowds it’s a good buzz just to be appreciated for what you can do.

What do you like to do away from snooker?
My girlfriend lives with me at home so I like to chill out with her and I like to socialise with my friends. I like to keep fit, I go to the gym and do a bit of swimming and I try and play as much football as I can as well and I also play pool for a league team each week and just have a bit of banter with my best friend who plays for a rival team. So that’s about it really!

Thanks for taking the time Kyren and all the best in Q School. I predict a bright future!

Kyren is managed by and can be contacted through OnQ Promotions.

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