Thursday, 14 April 2011

Peter Ebdon EXCLUSIVE interview: "I'm capable of another World Championship"

Peter Ebdon will be making history when he walks out to play at the World Championship this season.

It will be the 20th year in succession he's appeared at the Crucible. And only the great legends of Stephen Hendry Steve Davis, John Parrott and Jimmy White can boast this.

Still among the top 16, Ebdon does more than just make up the numbers on the professional circuit. The 17-day endurance test of the World Championship is in many ways tailor made for him, as one of the game's toughest competitors.

This was proved in 2002 when he lifted the world title at one of three finals he's appeared in.

At the age of 40, he hasn't written off his chances of adding another to his name either.

OnCue spoke exclusively to Peter in the build-up to the Crucible to reminisce about his days as champion plus much more.

Here you are Peter, back at the Crucible and with Stuart Bingham waiting in the first round. That's a tough draw. How are you feeling about it?

Stuart is a very tough player. He's had a good season and he's got himself provisionally in the top 16 for I think the first time. He's just behind me so there's plenty to play for. He's a very good all-round player and especially a very good break builder. He came close to making a 147 one year at the Crucible and I think he makes plenty of those. He'll be very well prepared and I need to play well, it's as simple as that.

Saying that though, there's not exactly an easy draw these days. People are saying it's the best field of players ever at the Crucible. Would you go along with that?

There's no easy draws. I think it's more open than ever. Although having said that, looking to the winner of the tournament, it's  probably going to come from one of the half a dozen top players. Even though there are lots of players now capable of beating the best players throughout the tournament, it really does take something special to consistently beat top players match after match at the World Championship, taking into account the stress, the pressure and how much effort it takes physically and mentally to compete. There really are only a handful of players who are capable of going through and seeing the job out in my opinion.

That's nothing new. Winning the World Championship has always been the biggest test. A test you passed back in 2002. How hard is it to win the world title?

Yeah, I have very fond memories of that, but it seems like a lifetime ago now. From what I can remember, it really is a test of character, persistence, perseverance and belief in yourself more than anything. You have to be tuned to the minute. It really is something special to win.

As well as winning it, you've got another achievement looming. You'll become the fifth player in history to appear at the Crucible for 20 consecutive seasons this year. How does that make you feel?

Who would have believed that eh? It's a great honour for me to still be there or there abouts at the top of the game, and it's something I'm very proud of. There are not many professional sportsmen who are at the top of their sport for two decades and the fact that Steve Davis, Jimmy White, John Parrott and Stephen Hendry are the only other four players to have passed it, it's absolutely amazing. I have to pinch myself to think I've achieved what they have in that sense. It's quite an amazing feeling really. I hope I'll be there for many years to come. You never know what is round the corner but I'll be trying, that's for sure.

Do you still get that special feeling walking out at the Crucible?

You're still nervous when you play there. You need to be because if you're flat, you're just not going going to respond to the pressure situation. You need to be nervous to a certain extent but not too nervous.

It's a wonderful venue. The crowd are generally knowledgeable. Obviously it's slightly distracting because you've got two tables going on at once and the dividing wall. That's one of the things the players have to contend with. You have to block yourself out. That's one of the things the younger lads going there for the first time might find difficult. It can be hard to settle at Sheffield. I've lost in the first round for the last two years, so I need to improve and do better again.

You talk about how tough it is playing their for the first time, but you were one of the most successful debutants, in 1991. What do you remember of that great run?

I remember playing Davis in the first round. He was the six-time world champion and it was an achievement in itself just to have qualified. To draw him and beat him 10-4 was just an incredible way to start my first professional season. I then beat Martin Clark 13-3, who was a very consistent top 16 player at the time. I played even better in that match. Every time Martin made a 50 or 60 break, I cleared up. I ended up losing in the quarter-finals to Terry Griffiths, who was one of the greatest match players we've ever seen. I made three centuries in that match and got beat 13-7. He played ever so well. At the time, I just didn't have the experience.

That must rank highly in your Crucible memories, but what's the best match you've ever played in at Sheffield?

The semi-final in 2002 against Matthew Stevens really was one of the great games in snooker history. I don't say that just because I won it 17-16 but because of the fact of how well Matthew played. I often think to myself 'how did I win that game?'. Strangely enough, we were staying in the same hotel in Sheffield and we both went back and had a chat after the match. We had a few drinks and we were still in the bar at 2 o'clock the next morning. I couldn't believe I'd won it for how well he'd played and he couldn't believe he'd lost the match. Stevens had 17 breaks over 50 to win 16 frames. It's phenomenal. My lasting impression is that he was playing so well. He was always out in front and I was just trying to grab on and stay in it. If I could have reached out and grabbed his waistcoat to hold him back, that was what I was mentally trying to do. It was a fantastic win. My back was against the wall.

That was the year you went on to lift the title. How did that feel?

It was a dream come true and worth all the effort that I ever put into it. They say that the view from the mountain top is worth all the effort, and that's how it felt. It was the summit of my career and my one big dream that I ever had. I always believed I had the class to become world champion.

And I still believe it. Things have not been easy for me in the last couple of years in my personal and family life but despite going through what I'd describe as an absolutely horrific time, I'm now very happy again, and have never been happier. That will reflect in my snooker. I feel as if I'm not that far away from playing well like that again.

Did it feel like you were proving yourself to the snooker world when you won the world title?

I always believed deep down that I would be world champion. Having the confidence and belief to go through and do it is a very special feeling. One of the journalists asked me 'can you believe that you're world champion?' and I said not particularly flippantly 'you've got it the wrong way round. Belief has to come first'. I had that belief and now nobody can ever take my name off that trophy.
Can you win it again this year?

I think I've got a very very tough draw to be perfectly honest. I have an absolute mountain to climb. It's not that I'm not capable of winning. I'm capable of beating anyone without any shadow of a doubt but it's about turning up on the day in the right frame of mind, being properly prepared and ready to win. Having focus and resolve. I've proved I can do that. Perhaps I'm the old man of the party now but I've still got a lot of snooker left in me. My focus again is turning to my snooker and I think I can be danger for quite some time to come.

I'd love to think I'm capable of another World Championship. And if I honestly thought in my heart and believed I wasn't capable, I think I'd put my cue away. It's the dream you live for and everything you play for. For me, the best part about becoming world champion is knowing that all the other top players are prepared to the best of their ability. Some of the best players we've ever seen are still playing now in the top 16. The likes of Mark Williams, John Higgins, Ronnie O'Sullivan and Stephen Hendry. The legends. So when you know these players are preparing to the best of their ability, it's a true magical feeling to know that you've come through and won the tournament. Unfortunately I've only won it once so far. I've been to another couple of finals but that's the way it is sometimes. 

Who are the players to beat this year?

I think Neil Robertson has got as good a chance as any previous first-time winner of defending it because he's a fantastic and very classy match player and cueist.

But I think Ding Junhui will take the beating this year. He's maturing and he's as classy as anyone in the game. If he can develop more steel and resolve which all world champions have got, he'd be unstoppable. For example, people never used to give Graeme Dott the credit he deserved for becoming world champion. What a fantastic, tough and talented match player he is. He is absolutely as hard as nails. I think if Ding could take 10 to 20 per cent of Graeme' steel, we could see Ding achieve incredible things in snooker. He could be a multiple champion. But the standard is so high, we might look back in five years and think 'how has he never won a world championship?'. That's how hard it is. But he's got the ability to win three, four, five or even six world championships. He's one of the most gifted players I've ever seen.

With that kind of quality around you, how do you ensure you keep competing?

I try. I work very hard at it and basically it's a state of mind. Some players have not got that and some players have got it in abundance. Some players are just born competitors. I love to compete. That's what keeps me going.

I believe there are not many things in this world we can't achieve if we really put our mind to it. Goal setting is the key. That switches the light on in the mind of a competitor. I've studied psychology for the last 15 to 20 years at an amateur self-development level. That gave me a definitive target of what I wanted to achieve. It instilled that inner belief in me, but you have to work hard. There are too many people in this world that expect things to fall to them, but that's not the way success works.

Away from the Crucible,  how do you assess your season as a whole? How is your form?

I feel like I'm on the road recovery and close to playing half decent snooker. I fell out of the top 16 for the first time in about 16 or 17 years at the end of last season. The match I lost in last year's World Championship took me from 13 in the rankings to 18, which was a bitter blow. I probably got what I deserved but it made me realise how much it meant to me to be in the top 16. I worked very hard this season. I got to the semi-finals of the World Open, and I've benefited from the changes to the ranking system that Barry Hearn and the board brought in, by getting straight back in. It would be lovely to finish in the top 12 at the end of the season because we have a new tournament in Brazil in September. I believe it's for the top 12 players only. There's a lot to forward to.

It's great to see you still up there in the rankings. All these years on, how do you maintain your motivation for snooker?

It's not easy to keep the practise in but you know deep down if you don't put the work in, you're not going to get the success. I think I tend to target the bigger tournaments now. I might not be absolutely spot on for the rest of the season when it comes to the smaller events, but the fact that I'm competing in them even when I might not be at the top of form all adds to the preparation for the bigger events.

It must be extra difficult for you living away in Hungary. How are you enjoying your life there? It's a bit closer than Dubai though of course.

I didn't choose a very good profession for someone who doesn't like flying very much. That seems to be all I've done in the last 25 years. I've won a few tournaments here and there of course. Some of the lads don't mind it but I don't think it's natural to enjoy flying, probably because I'm not in control of what I'm doing.

Talking of Hungary, I hear next season an EPTC event could be held there. Tell me about that...

My wife is doing her best to score a sponsor for an EPTC event in Budapest, which would be great. If we can showcase snooker and show the sponsor the potential value in snooker through Eurosport and how it's growing in other countries then we may be able to get a ranking event out there in the next couple of years. I'd be very proud to do that, but it's just one step at a time.

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