Tue, 23 Mar 2010
At least it's not a slow boat to China
I fly out to China on Thursday for my second visit there in the space of a couple of weeks. I was there a fortnight ago to sign a two-year sponsorship deal with the Rising Dragon Group, who are also known as Old World. Now I’m heading back for the China Open in Beijing, with my opening-round match next Wednesday. Never mind being a jet-setter, more like jet-lagger!
I spent a week out there last time. As part of the deal, I played in some exhibitions and did some promotional work. I also played a few young Chinese players in best-of-nine matches which were live on TV. About 10 different channels showed the matches, so I’d love to know what the viewing figures were. Hopefully I’ll find out in the next couple of days, because I’m sure there would have been a fair few watching. They love their snooker in China and the crowds at tournaments are always very well supported.
The sponsorship is a welcome boost. You don’t want to be thinking about the financial side of things all the time, you just want to get your head down and play snooker. But this season we’ve only had six tournaments and there isn’t as much prize money around, so any extra bit of income helps take off the pressure.
I don’t know as yet who I will be playing in my first-round match next week. It’s either Rod Lawler or Supoj Saenla, who meet each other in the wildcard round.
Supoj is an unknown quantity. I don’t know anything about him, other than he spent a season on the main tour a couple of years ago before falling off. Lawler has been around for a long time and must be playing well to have qualified, especially as he beat Ricky Walden in his last qualifying match.
Either player will be tough, all matches are these days. But I’ve been preparing well and putting in all the hours I can on the practice table, and I will go to China feeling very confident. Hopefully I can go all the way, and that would be the perfect build-up to the Word Championships.
There has been some talk lately that the World Championships are too long. Some views are that 17 days could be reduced to 12, or that some matches should have fewer frames. I don’t agree, it’s been working very well for so many years now and is the absolute pinnacle of our sport. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
There is nothing wrong with the format as it is, it’s the World Championships and matches have to be played over the longer distances, otherwise it would be more of a lottery if they were played over fewer frames. It has to be a true test. The first to seven would be too short. You get some great matches over the best of 19, and no-one is guaranteed to win. There are still plenty of shocks over the longer matches.
The one area I would look at would be the start times, especially the final. The last few years have seen some very late finishes, so bringing the start time of each session forward an hour or so would be a great help. It can’t all be about the viewing figures – it’s about the players as well, it’s our livelihood and so much is at stake.
I was interested to hear recently that our new chairman, Barry Hearn, has called some players lazy and that he wants us to work hard for our living. I couldn’t agree more and look forward to his promise that there are going to be plenty more tournaments for us to play.
I for one will want to play in them all. The prize money won’t be extravagant, but if there are a further 20 tournaments held over weekends, all you’ve got to do is win two or three of them and that will be a few quid more than we would earn sitting around doing nothing! And failing that, it will be good practice and will help keep you match-sharp.
The future looks good under Hearn. You only have to see what he has done to darts. A few years ago, I would never have said that darts would be more popular than snooker, but the way he has transformed it has been fantastic. If he can do the same to snooker, then we could be on to a real winner. He has already attracted sponsors for the last couple of tournaments, which was a major bonus. I can’t fault him so far, he is delivering the goods.
*There are some pictures from my trip to China in the Personal section of the Gallery. I also have some video footage which I will try to upload. Keep your eyes peeled!