Friday, 16 March 2012

You've got to hand it to Xiao

Xiao Guodong has won plenty of plaudits this week in Galway; and rightly so.

His march to the quarter-finals of the PTC Grand Finals goes to shows, not for the first time, what a fantastic prospect he is in the game.

Picture by Monique Limbos
But it's been the manner of his path to the last eight that has impressed people most. The young Chinese star has beaten Dominic Dale and Judd Trump despite nursing a broken hand.

He joked after a career-best 4-2 victory over Judd that he should break something before he goes into every tournament. The freak injury was caused three weeks ago after sleeping awkwardly on it.

He was told by a doctor not to play snooker but, it hasn't deterred him.

While I'm reluctant to praise someone for ignoring a doctors orders when this blog could be read by many youngsters, I still feel compelled to give Xiao some credit for his great display of fighting qualities.

I'm lucky enough to have met Xiao earlier this season when I visited the Star Snooker Academy in Sheffield during the PTC5. Our brief conversation was enough to ensure his performance this week against all the odds comes as no surprise to me.

What I saw that day was a player with all the qualities to go on to become a top player. The keen snooker fans among us already know much about his fantastic ability. He's a deadly scorer and has one of the best timings of the cue ball I've seen from a player outside the top 16.

But there's much more to him than that. Xiao was forthcoming in speaking to me. He loves snooker, has embraced life in the UK and is keen to speak as much of the language as regularly as possible. This shows his great commitment to becoming a success.

I also congratulated him on his narrow 4-3 loss to Mark Allen just an hour earlier. For many in his position in the rankings this would be a result to take plenty of positives. His philosophy was simple though. He'd lost the match so therefore it was a bad result, irrespective of his opponent. This shows both the belief he has in his ability and that he fears no-one.

The PTC Grand Finals tests players over a best-of-seven-frame format. This makes picking a winner very tough. It levels the playing field and gives everyone a chance. Xiao could well go on to lift the title this weekend. But while he obviously backs himself to do well in the sport, he responded to claims he could go all the way by saying he's just taking it one game at a time. That level-headed approach is yet another excellent asset for a player still so young.

In short, I rate Xiao extremely highly. He's a hardworking player who is prepared to put every effort in to making it at the top. He's in great company in Sheffield and has confirmed this season that he's definitely one to watch.

Quarter final line-up:

Andrew Higginson v Xiao Guodong
Mark Selby v Stephen Lee
Neil Robertson v Joe Perry
Stephen Maguire v Ricky Walden

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