Monday, 2 April 2012

Matt Selt EXCLUSIVE interview: "I believe I'm among the top 10 safety players in the world"

Matt Selt has quickly established a reputation as one of the most-improved players on the circuit. He's enjoyed an excellent season so far and is promising even more.

OnCue went to Romford to meet him as he prepares for this year's upcoming World Championship qualifying campaign.

It's been a decent season for you but the highlight was in Australia where you made it to the quarter-finals. How did that feel?

It felt amazing, of course. I really fancied beating John Higgins in the first round. I couldn't believe I was even 4-1 down. I was playing well and didn't deserve to be losing like that. I went into the toilets after the first five frames actually and was in the cubicle shouting at myself. I was quite embarrassed when I came out because I bumped into Mark Selby and he asked what I was doing and told me to calm down. I went back into the arena, turned it around and won 5-4.

That gave me some good momentum and I beat Hendry 5-1 before losing to Shaun Murphy in the quarter-finals. That was a great run for me and gave me good confidence for the rest of the season.

I have a funny story from that tournament as well. Because I'd done so well, my family called and said they'd pay for me to fly back on business class. Mark Davis' family said the same. We got to the desk and they needed to take a payment but couldn't take it over the telephone from our families so Joe Perry ended up lending us the money while he sat in economy class on his own. 

You've had some good results throughout the season but how do you assess your recent form?

I've lost to David Grace and Marco Fu in qualifying recently but I feel like I'm playing well and deserve a bit of the run of the ball. I'm going into the World Championship qualification campaign full of confidence, as I do for every tournament. You can count on one hand the number of times I've lost in the first qualifying round of an event and I've never lost at that stage in either of the UK or World Championships. That's a great record when you consider how difficult the qualifying circuit is.

Everyone continues to talk about how difficult the qualifiers are. Are they really that bad?

They are even tougher than people say. There are good players everywhere. You can't pick a good slot in any draw. Right from the second qualifying round, you've got players who can beat anyone. You only have to look at how good Judd Trump is and remember it took him five years to rise through the qualifiers to see exactly how hard it is.

Focus is switching to the World Championship. How are your preparations going for that?

I've had a bit of time off after the China Open qualifiers but have been back practising hard and preparing for the World Championship. I'm not playing here in Romford now. I've had a few problems with the owners of the club allowing lots of different club players play on my practice. I wasn't happy about that so I  moved to Cambridge temporarily into the same club as Joe Perry and Neil Robertson and was commuting there to play for a little while. I'm back at Chelmsford now full-time and getting ready. The World Championship is the big one and I'm really knuckling down.

How excited are you about the World Championship qualifiers? 

Like any player, I'd love to play at the Crucible. Before that I wanted to play at the Barbican in York most. I'd seen the venue on TV and thought it looked great and I achieved that this season qualifying for the UK Championship. I played Graeme Dott there; he was phenomenal. That's the best anyone has played against me this season. So, I've done that and now I want to play the World Championship next.

It looks like you've got a tough draw on paper. How are you feeling about it?

I've got an extremely tough draw. I could play Yu Delu or Michael White and then Stephen Hendry.It's quite exciting to think I could be the player who stops Hendry continuing his record of playing at the Crucible in consecutive seasons. I'm always confident I can beat anyone but I also know, if I get that far, Hendry is going to be up for it more than any other qualifying match he has played this season. The Crucible means everything to him. I've got to get that far first but it's an exciting and difficult draw. I'm just looking forward to it. I'll head up to Sheffield a few days before my first qualifying match and get some essential practice in. I'll be taking it all very seriously.

The prospect of playing at the Crucible is massive. How do you cope with playing in front of the big crowds and on the television?

It doesn't bother me in the slightest. I absolutely love it. I admit I looked a bit nervous at the start of the Shoot Out match but, seriously, it's why I play and I soon get in my stride. I want to be on TV and playing in the biggest matches. Some people freeze but I love it and want more of it.

You've had a handful of appearances at the big venues but for the fans who don't know lots about you, how would describe your game?

I believe I'm among the top 10 safety players in the world. That's probably because I've practiced with some great tacticians; Joe Perry, Ronnie O'Sullivan

You became a professional first in 2002 as a 17-year-old. How do you look back on that experience?

I was only a teenager and it was really hard. I beat Ryan Day and thought 'here we go, I'm off' but the truth was that I wasn't good enough then. I didn't find a level of consistency. I dropped off a year later and because I got onto the tour so young in the first place, I took my return for granted and it took me a few years to actually do it.

You returned to the tour in 2007 and have made good progress. You're nicely placed in the top 48 bracket of the rankings. What goals have you set yourself now?

I never look back in the rankings. I always look up. I'm targeting the top 32 next. I know I should be in there and even higher. I believe I'm good enough. I've always moved up the rankings so that needs to continue.

I've had a good season and I want to carry on but I don't want to look ahead and set too many targets. It only makes it harder if you don't achieve them. If you're talking about the long-term, I'd like to end up playing golf but at the moment, snooker is the only thing I can make a living out of so that's what I'm doing.

You've got a lot of self-belief. Can you go on and win an event? 

As a kid, my target was always to one day get into the top 16 but it doesn't mean as much nowadays. You can be in there for only two tournaments now. It's about winning. The PTCs are not really my cup of tea but I'd love to win a PTC, of course. I'd prefer a bigger one and I believe I'm good enough.

Look at Stuart Bingham. He'd never been beyond a quarter-final and then he won the Australian Open so it's achievable.

We're here in Romford and talking about winning events so it seems fitting we should talk about Steve Davis. How fondly do you think of him?

Davis is a legend in these parts, obviously. He practised on that table behind us and it's been quite strange playing in a club where a six-time world champion has been with all the history that surrounds that.

You've got quite a story about another legend as well, Stephen Hendry. Do tell...

When I qualified for my first event to go to the Shanghai Masters in 2009, I was actually on the same flight as Hendry. I remember looking down the list of people on the flight and seeing he was the only other player on it. I changed my seat to be away from him. I'm a bit of a cheeky chappy and I didn't think it would go down at all well with him. He's the ultimate professional. I didn't think he'd want to listen to my nonsense all the way over there. He walked past me at one point and said 'hello'. I thought to myself 'that was ok' but then I ended up in the same hotel as him. He called me in my room. I couldn't believe the seven-time world champion was on my telephone. He asked if I wanted to practice. That was fair enough but then he said we should go for a meal.

He knew it was my first tournament and, looking back, it was a kind gesture. People might not realise but he's such a funny guy and I'll never forget the effort he made with me in Shanghai. It was top class.

I then had to play him in Scotland at the Grand Prix later that season and I was stitched up by a journalist. I was asked about my draw. I said I was confident like I am in every match I go into. I was looking forward to it but it got printed as me saying I had an easy draw. I was able to laugh because Stephen knew I wouldn't have said that.

Is he your ultimate idol then?

Hendry and Davis are the greats but for it was always Mark Williams. He was so young when he won the Masters against Hendry in 1998. He's got such an excellent style of play and I grew up thinking he was the top player at that time.

I hear you get on well with world champion Neil Robertson as well...

I've got a lot of friends on the circuit but I probably get on with Neil the best. He's a top mate. I was there when he won the world title in 2010 and he just hasn't changed a single bit. He's got money he doesn't know what to do with.He backs out of buying things that are like £180 and he's stayed really down to earth. We'll be friends for a long time.

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