Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Barry Hawkins EXCLUSIVE: "The Australian Open has made me hungry to win more"

It's been an excellent year for Barry Hawkins so far.

Picture by Monique Limbos
He started 2012 with the capture of the Shootout title in Blackpool, went on to beat the world number one Mark Selby at the Crucible, won his first ranking event title at the Australian Open this summer and most recently sealed his place back in the world's top 16.

This success is no surprise to those who know the game well.

Hawkins is a good player to watch. He has always scored heavily and, at his best, boasts great long-potting ability. In fact, people in and around the circuit are surprised it's taken him so long to get his hands on major silverware.

Barry's victory Down Under is reward for a career which has seen him put everything into the game. He is one of the genuinely likable characters on the tour. He treats the game with great respect and isn't a moaner. He just gets on with it. That's why no-one will ever begrudge him of the achievements he's enjoyed this year.

He can now look forward to a seeded place at the upcoming UK Championship and then the prestigious Masters.

Barry took some time out from snooker to talk exclusively to OnCue about his excellent year...

Let's start with the recent news of your qualification back into the top 16 in the world rankings. How do you feel about that?

I'm really pleased because I've been trying to get back in there for a while now. Winning the Australian Open has probably made the big difference, but being in the top 16 isn't where my ambition stops. I don't want to just make up the numbers. I want to move even further up now.

I'm in the top 16 again but I can't take it easy. I want to keep doing well, pick up more results and continue move in the right direction. My place at the UK Championship and the Masters was quite uncertain for a while because of Stephen Lee's suspension and Ronnie O'Sullivan's opportunity to be an automatic seed as world champion. The draws have come out now though and I know I'm guaranteed to play in both, so I couldn't be happier. The next target for me is to win more matches. The current ranking system means you can lose your place in the top 16 as quickly as you can gain it. I know if I move up even further in the rankings I won't have to worry at all about circumstances.

You're a southern lad and the Masters is one of the real jewels in the crown of the snooker season. How much are you looking forward to playing at Alexandra Palace?

Everyone knows the Masters is one of the biggest tournaments of the year. It's guaranteed to be a great atmosphere at Alexandra Palace, so I'm really looking forward to it. I've played in the competition twice before when it was at Wembley, but I've never really settled down and played my best.

I've been bashed up a couple of times in the event by Ken Doherty and Ryan Day. That's pretty disappointing but they've both played well in those matches, so I haven't been too hard on myself. Hopefully this time I'll be better prepared and more confident. I know what to expect when I get there but face a tough game against Judd Trump in round one.

The big success of the year for you was winning your first ranking event at the Australian Open. How did that feel?

It was amazing. Although there were a few top players who didn't enter the tournament, the top four players in the world were still there. It was a really tough field and these days it's not easy to win any ranking tournament, so I was pleased.

It was an absolutely wonderful feeling. I was delighted because I've put a lot of hard work into the game over the years. I've had success in tournaments in the past but to come home as a champion and with the trophy in my hand for such a big tournament was a super feeling.

I did enjoy winning the event but because there are so many tournaments I've been really busy and haven't been able to dwell on it too much. It already seems so long ago. It's very difficult to keep the momentum going all the time when you're playing so regularly, but it's a great high to enjoy. If anything, the win has made me hungry to win more.

You've enjoyed a few semi-finals throughout your career, but it was your first major ranking final in Bendigo as well. How was the whole experience?

It was a great occasion. I've lost a few semi-finals down the years and a couple to Ronnie so it was nice to go one step further and taste playing in a final. I enjoyed being introduced. I remember being pretty nervous but the pride and excitement took over. I just hope I can get that feeling again. I don't want it to be a one off.

You played very well in the final. You were quite a convincing winner against Peter Ebdon in the end even though he'd caused all his opponents big problems that week. How did you manage to take such great control of the match?

Sometimes Ebdon is known as being quite slow but I've played him at times when he's been equally as quick and attacking. He is one of the hardest individuals to play against. You never know what he's going to do and he's won lots of big tournaments. He's a world class player but I felt quietly confident going into the match because I've got a good record against him.

I played really well in the match. My scoring was heavy and I produced some good safety, so I didn't give him too many chances to get on top. He was grinding a lot of players down that week but I didn't let that affect me. If the match had gone closer it might have been much more difficult. I was glad I found my rhythm and dominated the match. It made it much easier for me.

A lot of people have said you were always going to win a ranking title and it was just a question of when - did you feel the same?

It's nice when people say that kind of thing. I probably believed it a little bit because you don't think everyone can be wrong but when it doesn't happen for such a long time you do start to doubt yourself.

I wondered when it was going for a long time but then I started thinking 'will it ever happen?'. I always felt I was good enough but it's tough because there are so many great players around. A lot of people were saying 'I told you so' when I won it. It was nice to repay that faith and it's good to say I've won a big tournament, but I don't want to stop there. I hope I've got a good bit of time left playing. I'm determined to make the most of the next few years.

A lot of players are playing their best snooker in their 30s these days. Does that give you heart that your best could still be to come?

A lot of the top players are in their 30s, so hopefully I can still improve and enjoy the good years from here.

I don't think you can tell when you'll stop these days. You only have to look at a player like Mark Davis to see what can be achieved. He's a bit older than me and he's enjoyed the best couple of years he's ever had and doesn't look like stopping yet either, so I know I've still got time to keep going. I'd keep playing for another 10 years if I could.

This isn't your first spell in the top 16. You've matured quite a lot since the last time. How do you fell you've changed as a player?

I really struggled the year I was last in the top 16. I lost nearly every first round match except for the semi-final I made at the China Open. I lacked a lot of self-belief at that time of my career even though I played well to get in the top 16 the season before.

I feel much better prepared this time. I've been working a lot with Terry Griffiths over the past 18 months on the mental side of the game. I think that's added a bit more consistency to my performances. I understand that I might only be in the top 16 for a few tournaments instead of a whole season because of the current ranking system, so I just want to do well, make the most of it and hopefully that will mean I can stay there for a bit longer.

Another of your big successes at the start of this year came at the Shootout. How much confidence did that give you for 2012?

It definitely gave me a boost. The matches were only frame long but it was about playing under pressure and coping with nerves. The crowd was excellent in Blackpool and there was a lot of money at stake. There was no time to relax. It was tough to win and gave me the confidence at a perfect time. I owe a lot to that tournament.

You spoke earlier about consistency. I think you've been consistent for a long time. You've been in the top 32 of the world ranking for the past eight seasons and played seven consecutive years at the Crucible. Do you take a lot of pleasure from that?

Getting through to the World Championship regularly has been massive for me. If you don't qualify to play at the Crucible it puts a downer on your season. It's massive. I remember Mark Allen saying last season after he'd won the World Open and reached the final of the UK Championship that a really good season became mediocre one because he lost in the first round at the World Championship. That's how important it is. I want to keep my record going. You have to rate consistency highly.

Saying that, it took you until your sixth year at the Crucible to win a match there. Was that something that was playing on your mind?

I remember losing my first match at the Crucible 10-1 to Doherty. I think I won the first frame and fancied myself to do well, but ended up playing terribly after that. I came away from the tournament thinking 'oh my god', that was awful.

Although I've lost a lot of first round matches at the World Championship I haven't played too badly there since, but I've had some really tough draws. I've managed to win my first round match for the past two years, which I've been really pleased with. The Crucible is a difficult place to play if you don't settle down quickly. There are a few players who even hate playing there. I don't get that. I find it nerve-wracking but I enjoy it because of the crowd and the occasion.

This year you managed to beat world number Mark Selby at the Crucible. You must have been delighted with that but was it difficult knowing he was suffering with a neck injury?

Everyone was telling me before the match that he might not even be able to play, but that made it even more difficult. I put myself under a bit more pressure because I felt like I had a better chance to progress. I could see he was struggling on certain shots but I played well myself. I didn't miss many times in the balls.

I knew I still had to go out there and win. The early frames felt important. I think if he'd started well he might have grown into the match. The pain probably got worse for him the more I pulled away, so the start was crucial. I punished his mistakes and was pleased to get the game won in the end.

Let's look ahead to the rest of the season now. How are you feeling about the tournaments in front of you?

I feel really good right now. I didn't qualify for the International Championship so I decided to take three weeks off in October to spend some quality time with my family. I've started playing every day day again now and feel as if the break has done me good. I feel fresh and ready to go. There are a lots of events to come. I'm hungry to play. I'm looking forward to going to tournaments and competing.

You've  never had a reputation as a moaner. You seem to have taken all the changes that have happened to the sport in your stride. Do you really fell like that inside?

A lot of people like to have a moan about things, especially the PTCs, but I can't see many negatives about them. It's good for the game. The travel expenses can be quite steep but at the end of the day there's a lot of ranking points up for grabs and big prize funds are waiting at the Grand Finals, so it's about looking long-term. The European events are excellent for promoting the game. The crowds are always good and they could lead to bigger ranking tournaments in the future. I try to use them as good match practice and wining a few quid. I always look for the positives.

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