Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Joe Perry EXCLUSIVE interview: "I want to get that winning attitude back"

Joe Perry is a straight talking kind of guy.

He's not concerned about painting a rosey picture.

Despite enjoying a run to the semi-final of the World Championship in 2008, and playing some of the best snooker of his career for a few months after, his career has fallen drastically away ever since.

He knows that, and he's big enough to admit it.

As we sat in Starbucks, just a short walk from his club in Cambridge, he had no hesitation in looking me square in the face and telling me how he hasn't been good enough. He told me his tale of how a lack of confidence has halted his climb to the top of the game.

But now ranked at number 27 in the world, Joe is ready to rekindle his form.

Here's what he had to say in a frank encounter...

Ask anyone in the snooker world about Joe Perry and they immediately point to your dramatic dip in form over the past couple of year. But you ended the most recent campaign looking in relatively good nick.

You played pretty well in your last major outing too, but were unlucky to lose 10-9 to Stephen Hendry at the Crucible. Tell me about that match first...

Yeah I was relatively happy with my performance, and I said in my interview afterwards, it was probably the best I've ever felt after losing a game at the World Championship.

Normally you're so disappointed. Don't get me wrong, I was disappointed, but it was one of the most exciting games I've played in. The only way I could have bettered it was to have won. My whole life has been about snooker and I'm sure in years to come, I'll remember that game.

Stephen Hendry is the greatest player ever to have lived and to play him in such an exciting match right until the death, will always be a bit of an honour for me.

You say that, but it must have been a match you fancied your chances in?

Yeah, I was pleased with the draw. For a bit of nostalgia and the fact it wasn't John Higgins, Mark Williams or Neil Robertson. It was definitely a winnable game.

You played in the semi-final at the Crucible in 2008, of course. How did it compare to that?

It was up there. If I could have played Hendry like that ten years ago when he was out and out the best, and took him to 10-9, then the atmosphere would have been electric. For me, it was still on a par with any atmosphere I've ever had at the Crucible.

Hendry is now dangling on the edge of the top 16, and people are saying it might be his last trip to Sheffield. What do you make of that?

I said straight after the game I'd be really disappointed if that was the case. He's a born winner and his record is second to none. He's had a fantastic career out of the game. He's not at his peak now but Steve Davis was the same. He's still willing to just go out and try. I hope Hendry can adopt the same attitude. He's still good enough. He's maybe not good enough to win the world title but he's good enough to still do well in tournaments. It would be a shame to see him go so soon. It would be nice to see him give something back.

Let's revisit your famous trip to the last four at the World Championship. You were extremely close to making the final. How did that feel?

I've always said that is my career highlight and career low all rolled in to one. I should have won the match easy. I was one or two shots away from the final. I was the better player until the last three frames, when Ali Carter came on really strong. To play a world final against anybody, let alone Ronnie O'Sullivan, would have been the highlight of my career. But it wasn't to be, unfortunately.

What are you other golden moments?

My debut at the Crucible was pretty special too. I don't do things easy, beating Steve Davis 10-9 on the final black. I made my highest break at the Crucible against Mark Williams as well in 2004. He was world number one at the time, and I beat him 13-11 in the last 16.

I've won the Championship League to get through to the Premier League. That was a real good achievement. I'm not one for highs and lows though. I've had a steady career I'd say.

People do regard your form around the 2008 World Championship as the best period of your career though. Would you go along with that?

Yes, I'd say so. The three months leading up to the World Championship and the four or five months after were my best. I think I was unlucky not to have achieved a bit more. I drew Ronnie O'Sullivan in about four or five events I got beat in around that time. He was playing well then. He was world number one and world champion. Who's to say I couldn't have gone on to win one of them tournaments if my draws weren't a little kinder. I went on a slump after that spell. My confidence totally went.

What do you think went so wrong?

I don't know what happened. I was playing in the form of my life but didn't win anything and didn't have anything to show for it apart from some good reports and some prize money. I felt that was my time to really kick on, but it didn't happen. It gradually snowballed and it got to the stage where I didn't know when I was going to win again.

I don't know. I don't think I'm any better or worse a player now than I was five years ago. You just have patches. Everything was great at that time. Everything was going well. I was getting results to prove it. I was being talked about by top people in the game. I remember pundits talking and tipping me to win tournaments. It felt good to hear these things from people that know. Confidence is such a big thing in snooker.

That's was still quite a time again now. Let's focus on the start of last season a bit more now because you didn't begin that too well either. How do you look back on that now?

I came into last season with too much negativity. I changed my cue. It's something I wanted to do for years and years, but all the time, I was putting it off, even though I knew deep down my cue was no good, and people were telling me the same. But when it's not broke, don't fix it. When results stopped coming I thought it was time to change. I've had the new cue for a season now. John Parris made me four cues. I took them away to see which one I liked and I took it from there. I'd had my original cue since I was 13-years-old. It was 30-years-old when someone gave it to me. I was always going to struggle to get used to a new cue and that doubled with a lack of confidence made the first half of last season very tough.

What factors  have contributed to your slump over the past couple of seasons?

It's been hard. I've always been someone who listens to other people's opinions. I'm quite sensitive. It was harder for me because Neil Robertson, who plays at the same club as me, was winning everything. I was getting more support from the guys at the club than Neil, but he was world champion and world number one, while I seemed to keep losing matches. I've never been in competition with Neil and Neil has never made me feel like that. He's brilliant, but in myself, I was putting myself down. It made it hard to get out of it.

You have turned the corner again now, I'd say. Do you agree?

Yeah, results started to happen again. I beat Mark Selby at a  PTC and made two or three centuries and all of a sudden, the belief came again. I'm feeling very good again.

Are you back to somewhere near your best now?

In practise, it's there. I just need a good run to prove to myself again. I thought in the German Masters I was there. I beat Ali Carter and Jamie Cope. I was really up for it against Mark Williams in the quarter-finals, but I got slaughtered. I had one chance, made about 130, and it was the only frame I won. I felt like I was playing well enough to win that tournament. I need to keep plugging away and hope for a bit of luck. But the game is tough. No-one is going to nick a tournament anymore. You need to play your very best.

Let's move on to rankings. There's quite a number of players vying to make the top 16. Have you got your eyes on that again?

I don't think there's as much pressure attached now to rankings. I've been in the position so many times when I'm going to the World Championship needing a result. It's horrible. I wasn't in that position this year, but I know people who were, and they didn't seem to be half as interested. They know if they do well at the start of the new season, they'll be in there anyway. It's taken the emphasis off it a little bit.

The game has really transformed in  other ways too over the last year. Have you enjoyed being part of that?

For people like myself, who still love the game and are still hungry to play, it's been fantastic. I couldn't ask for any more. I know some players are saying they're overworked now, but that's ridiculous. You just have to remember how it was two years ago. Six tournaments. People asked what you do for a living and when you're playing next. I said 'two months time' and it was embarrassing. Now, we barely get any time off. I love that.

That's down to Barry Hearn, I guess. How much admiration do you have for him?

He takes every single ounce of credit for that. He was lucky he came in to a game where the players were desperate to be busy. I'd say 95 per cent of the tour supported it and we've had nothing but praise for it. It works perfectly.

This coming season is set to be even more action-packed. Have you set yourself any targets?

No, not really. I want to do better than I did last year. I want to get my head into the position where I was a few years ago, going into tournaments thinking about winning them rather than not embarrassing myself. I want to get that winning attitude back and believing I can go and win.

That turned a bit heavy. On a lighter note, tell me about your relationship with some of the other players. I hear you have a little group going. That must be nice...

It's great, especially now. Me, Gerard Greene, Mark Davis and Barry Hawkins seemed to have formed this little group and in between matches, we play cards. When we go round Europe in the PTCs, we share rooms. It makes it easier. It works and passes the time.

The PTCs are packed into a weekend but you're still sitting about for long hours, so it's good if you can pass the time enjoyably. We all qualified for China too, and it was good. If you know you're going to meet up, have a laugh, mess about at times and be serious when we're supposed to, it makes you look forward to a tournament even more.

Any funny stories to tell from your travels then?

We have a laugh wherever we go. Not that memorable but Gerard Greene's black eye in China would be my highlight. We got there early.We thought we'd go out, because it's easier to sleep with a few beers. Well, that's what I tell the wife anyway. We got back in quite late.  He's got out of the taxi and he's tripped over these decorative chains outside of the hotel. His hands were in his pockets and he headbutted the pavement. It was probably the best shiner I've seen in years, and he had to play his match with it. Luckily, he was on one of the back tables. They did show a bit of it though. It was funny.

Some players say success can boil down to what you do off the table during a tournament as well as on it. Would you agree?

I can see that. Mark Allen said he gets really down at tournaments, sitting in his room just watching DVDs all the time. It's such a long season and you're away for a long time and you spend a lot of hours doing nothing so you need to find something to keep you at a level. I'm quite lucky I've managed to do that with the boys.

What about away from snooker. What is life like for Joe Perry?

I've got a pretty simple sort of life. I've got a very close-knit family. My immediate family is very close. I've got two brothers. One lives in the same town, one lives in Surrey and my mum and dad live in the same town. I just do the simple stuff. I play golf. I've played a couple of times with Stuart Bingham. I don't like playing with him unless I'm his partner though. I play, but I don't play to that sort of standard. Stuart is exceptionally good. There's a few snooker players on single figures, and John Parrott is probably the best. Hendry and Shaun Murphy are very good too. I'm not in that bracket, unfortunately.

What about living in Cambridge. It's such a beautiful place. You must love it...

It's a lovely place and the club is great to me. Having Neil here means I've got someone to lean on as well. Cambridge is great. Sometimes it's too good, especially when the sun is out. That's when the dedication sets in.

You get quite a good local press too I hear. How has that come about?

Where I live, I've got quite a big catchment area. I'm not quite in Cambridge, Peterborough or the King's Lynn area. I've played all round the county over the years and I'm quite friendly with all the press from those areas, so I take up quite a big area. They're all quite hot on it. There's a little base going on.

You're planning on practising a bit more with Neil this season too. That will be good for you surely...

It will be good for both of us. Neil knows he doesn't practise enough. He's opened his eyes a bit now. He wasn't happy with some of his results last season. He knows that was probably down to a lack of hard work. I will definitely benefit from playing him a lot too.

Did Neil apply himself differently last season?

No, but it goes back to confidence. He didn't really know what a bad defeat was like. He was just riding high. He was full of it, but this year he's had the pressure of being world champion on his shoulders, and it's a lot to live up to. He's done an admirable job, but not in the high standards he sets himself. He knows he could do better. I think we'll see a different Neil Robertson next season.

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