Sunday, 26 June 2011

Daniel Wells EXCLUSIVE interview: "I'll do whatever it takes to achieve my potential."

Back on tour and back in Wales.

Exciting young Welsh talent Daniel Wells is no stranger to the professional circuit having spent the 2008/09 and 2009/10 seasons competing with the big boys.

It was a big learning curve for him as he lived and breathed the game from his base in Sheffield, practising every day at the Academy alongside the likes of Ding Junhui and Peter Ebdon.

He had plenty of good days and won many supporters but, when he lost his card, he faced life back among the amateurs and, with it, came making the long journey back to his homeland in Wales.

In a frank interview with OnCue, he admits there were moments when he doubted his professional future, but a fantastic campaign has changed all that.

He won four of his six amateur events in 2010/11 to finish top of the Welsh amateur rankings and regain his professional status. His most recent trophy saw him crowned the amateur European champion after beating former Irish professional Vincent Muldoon 7-4 in the EBSA Championship final in Sofia earlier this month.

Ready for his third season in four as a professional, Daniel hopes this is the beginning of a long stay at the top of the game.

Speaking on Saturday night ahead of qualifying for the first Australian Goldfields Open, find out how he's feeling about his return...

Another hard session of practise today for you then. How's it all going and how are you playing?

Yeah I'm feeling good. I had a knock on the table with Michael White and Ryan Day this afternoon. I'm playing ok. I'm not playing amazing but I'm just excited to get going. I played in the PTC1 event last week, but lost my first match 4-0 to Joe Jogia. He's a great player I've always rated, but it was the worst possible start I could have made to the season. I've got to remember they're short matches in the PTCs, so results like that can happen. I'm not too down about it.

You're playing James Wattana on Monday in qualifying for the Australian Open. He's one of the wildcards on the circuit, but not an easy match because of his experience. How are you feeling about that one?

James was in Sheffield with me back in the day so I know a lot about his game. It's going to be tough. He's an experienced player who still has the hunger, but I know I'm capable of beating him.

You've got to win four matches to make it to Bendigo, but still, it's an exciting prospect. You could be going to the other side of the world to play. Is that an extra incentive?

You only live once and I'm still a young lad, so I'd like to see as much of the world as possible. I've already done a lot of travelling with my snooker and the way the game is going under Barry Hearn, travel is going to become an even bigger part of it. It's exciting. I've never been to Australia. I'd love to be going next month, but I can't get carried away. There's a lot of hard work to be done to make it that far.

Talking of travelling, you've not long been back from Sofia where you won the EBSA Championship.  How pleased were you with that win to cap off a great season?

It's the first time I've played in that tournament, so I was very pleased. Again, I thought played ok. I was consistent and I managed to win it. Hopefully it will be the last amateur tournament I play in for a very long time, so it's good to finish it with a trophy. I'm the European and Welsh amateur champion right now. Not many people have been able to say that, so I'm proud of what I've achieved, but my main aim was always making a return to the professional tour.

Vincent beat me in 2005 in the amateur under-19s semi-finals, so it was good to get a bit of revenge. I was always a bit of a nearly man in the junior game, so at last, I feel like I've become a winner. I've won four out of my six tournaments this season, and Lee Walker won the other two. We've dominated really, but I still don't think I've played my best. That's something to be positive about though, I suppose.

Did it help the pressure being off you with your professional status already secured before the EBSA Championship?

A few people have said that to me but, believe me, I was under pressure because I wanted to win it so much. I felt big time under pressure. I was nervous going in to the final. I went out there telling myself I just wanted to enjoy it, but I couldn't. I've always thought I play well under pressure, so I suppose it's good preparation for being a professional again because I'll be under pressure all the time at that level.

In the amateur games, you know you get chances. Next season, I expect to be punished a lot more for my mistakes. I could make a 60 break against an amateur and know the frame was pretty match sealed, but it will still be wide open against a professional.

There's a good crop of amateur Welsh players, but the same can be said in the professional arena. You're back among them and must be proud of that...

Wales has always been strong in snooker and it's definitely the case at the moment. Michael White and Jamie Jones are good friends of mine. We all grew up together, played together as juniors and went to the same school. I think that's a great achievement. It's strange for one school to have three professional sportsmen.

It must have been difficult dropping back down a level after two seasons on tour.  How did it feel, and how did that translate when you regained professional status?

I was beginning to doubt things. Not myself, but thinking 'what if I start losing matches as an amateur?' You wonder if you can make it back. I was apprehensive going into last season. I think I was lucky. I had the chance to play in the new PTC series, which meant I was still facing professionals. I finished 30th in the Order of Merit, but I wasn't getting any ranking points for it. That was frustrating.  It was also frustrating because my results proved I was still good enough. Then, I was given wildcards to the World Open and German Masters. That was good because I was still experiencing playing in big tournaments but I was frustrated because it wasn't regular enough for me.

But now, I've done it. I'm back. A year may not sound like a long time but it felt like it to me. I'm excited. This weekend I feel great. I'm back now and getting all those great feelings before a big ranking event again. I feel edgy at the moment, but it's nice.

You're returning to a different circuit to the one you left. How do you feel about that and what are your hopes for the new season?

There are a lot more tournaments now. There were only six ranking events when I was last a professional player. I probably played against more professionals as an amateur than when I was actually a professional. That kept my arm in.

It was hard to get good momentum when I was last on the tour. I didn't think the old ranking system was very fair to new players on tour, but it seems like a much more level playing field now. A lot of younger players have taken their chances under the new system and risen up the ranks. I want to do the same and hit up the rankings.

I haven't played in a proper ranking event since December so it could take me a little while to pick it back up again. That's probably one of the reasons why last weekend's PTC tournament was a baptism of fire for me. I know I'm not going to get let off the hook anymore. I've got away with being sloppy at times over the last year, but I can't anymore.

You lived in Sheffield when you last played as a professional. Have you got any plans to move back to Yorkshire?

No, there's no plans for that. I'm staying in Wales. I'm happy here and I've got plenty of players to practise with. My table here is good and I don't feel like I'm lacking in competitive practise with the quality players who are around me. If my results are poor or I start slipping, I might consider going back, but not at the moment. I've been at home for a year. I've not gone backwards. In fact, I've progressed, so why change a winning formula.

How do you remember your days in Sheffield then?

They were amazing to be honest. You can't buy that kind of experience. The Academy was so competitive and I was playing a lot of top players all the time. I lived and breathed snooker back then. It was like my university course where I really learned about the game. But it was good to get back to my family and friends.

I've not ruled out a return. I'll do whatever it takes to achieve my potential, so if a time comes when I think I need to go back, I will.

You must have fond memories of your professional years. What sticks in your mind and are you looking forward to creating more good memories?

Obviously, my run to the last 48 of the 2009 World Championship is what I'm most remembered for. I was under a lot of pressure playing to survive on tour. All four of my qualifying matches were 10-9, but I couldn't quite beat Barry Hawkins to make it to the Crucible. I remember being a nervous wreck in that tournament to the extent I could barely stand up. But somehow, I managed to win matches. I don't know how I did it.

I never felt out of my depth on the main tour, but back then, it was harder to stay on. I think you've got a better chance now. If I don't stay on this time, I'll have nobody to blame but myself.

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