Saturday, 23 March 2013

Mark King EXCLUSIVE interview: "I've never won an event but I haven't given up hope"

Mark King has always had a reputation for being one of the most likeable characters on the circuit.

Picture by Monique Limbos
It's easy to see why after meeting up with him in the relaxed surroundings of his home club in Chelmsford, Essex. Happy to talk openly and honestly, his hardworking attitude is admirable. After 23 years as a professional he still remains as committed as ever to the buzz of competition.

OnCue caught up with the King during a a recent break from the baize to find out how he's been gearing up for the China Open and the World Championship qualifiers...

You've had a couple of events off not being in the World Open or PTC Grand Finals. Do you still watch the snooker when you're not there?

Yeah. You never really want to watch because you've been knocked out but it's something that immediately happens. I love playing and I love watching snooker, but these days I also love being at home with my three kids just as much. I want to spend as much time as I can with them. They're only young so the break from snooker creates a good opportunity to be at home with them and chill out with them.

This has been the first time in about 18 months when I've had more than just a few days off. I didn't even really have time for a holiday last summer so it's good to relax for a decent spell of time and then come back for one last push before the end of the season. There's a couple of weeks off in July too as well so I'll be taking my family away to Turkey for a holiday.  The balance feels about right.

Years ago we used to have three months off after the World Championship. I appreciate the breaks more now because we play so much more snooker. It's much better these days all round.

Picture by Monique Limbos
There are so many tournaments to play in these days. Do you think practice time has become redundant?

I wouldn't say that. I still practice hard. In years gone by it used to be difficult to get your timing going for a new event.

Now, I feel like I'm ticking over all the time. You just need a little session on the table now between tournaments to maintain the timing and keep the technique going. It takes less time to get set for matches now.

It's at about this stage of the season when the media likes to talk about burnout. Where do you sit with this debate? Does it really exist?

I think Mark Selby looks like he's got to that stage recently. He's lost a few games people don't think he should have. I think sometimes it takes its toll on players who are playing in every went. Mark is working hard to cement his place as world number one but I think it's good for players to sometimes swerve an event. If I was up the top, or anywhere near the top, I'd pick and choose more. I wouldn't play in all the PTCs. Because of my ranking I need to be playing in everything though.  I'm around 30 in the world rankings so I'm working to give myself a bit of a cushion in the top 32.

That's a fair way of looking at your position. You've been a professional for many years. Do you still feel as motivated as ever to progress?

Picture by Monique Limbos
Yes, of course. If I didn't play snooker I'd need to go to get another job. It's a way of earning money and I still enjoy playing. I still think I'm good enough to do well. I've never won an event but I haven't given up hope.

I've said for many years that I just need to be more consistent. I can beat any player in the world, no problem. I just can't seem to progress to that next level. I beat Mark Williams in the UK Championship. He turned round and said 'I'm going to retire' which piddled me off a little bit because it wasn't as if he played rubbish and I weren't very good. I actually played pretty solid. I thought it was a bit disrespectful. He didn't play his best but he made a nice couple of breaks and put me under pressure from the word go.

Maguire was complimentary to me when I beat him in Germany and Selby is another player who will always say his opponent played well and wishes them good luck. This is quite rare. A lot of the other top lads normally choose to criticise their own performance when they lose. It does annoy me a little bit.

That's just the way some people are. I can be a bit of a baby sometimes when I get beat. It's frustrating, especially when you've put the work in. I lost to Dave Gilbert 5-1 in the World Open qualifiers. It was so near to Christmas that I think mentally I'd already switched off. It's a game I'd like to go back and play again. Dave played a lot better than I did.

You're obviously playing in the China Open next week. There have been five events in China this season. How do you cope with that?

Picture by Monique Limbos
As long as I've got my laptop and a few DVDs then I'm alright. I don't actually mind going to China. I know it's a long way but I quite enjoy the crowds. In Beijing and Shanghai the crowds are particularly good. They really respect snooker.

The fans wait for the players outside the venue and it makes you feel like a professional player. It's a nice feeling. I enjoy going. World Snooker has also organised a new travel company this season so I can book my flights through them and the cost is deducted from my prize money. It's really helpful and a great new scheme.

Your first round match in Beijing is against Selby. How are you feeling about that game?

Yeah, it should be a nice easy one (he says laughing). Mark gets quite a lot of criticism I've noticed but if I was doing as well as he is, I could take as much stick as you like. Mark is a great player and a real genuine bloke. He always gives his opponents the respect they deserve. He is a true gentleman. He isn't the most fluent player and most glorified you've ever seen but he wins lots of scrappy frames and close matches.Those kinds of players are the ones that do well in this game.

You've got a good record against Selby in recent seasons. How much confidence will that give you ahead of the match?

I've beaten him at the Masters. I've beaten him at the World Championship. That's a good record against a player so good. On my day, there's no-one I can't beat. I just have to play well and keep my game controlled. If I miss an easy ball, I need to keep calm and just focus on playing my next shot. I sometimes have a habit of playing a bit negative but I think it does my head in more than my opponent. I won't be thinking about Selby when we play. I just want to play well myself.

You're probably entering the twilight years of your career now. There are lots of player at the same stage of the career doing well at the moment. Does that give you an extra boost?

Yes. Look at a player like Mark Davis. He's flying and he's older than me, so it gives me hope. I don't burn the candle at both ends. I don't drink, smoke or go out partying. I keep myself fit playing football. I think this lifestyle give myself the chance to step up and enjoy a really good couple of years.

Picture by Monique Limbos
How much would you like to end your career by winning an event?

That would be great. I look at some of the players who have won ranking events and they're good players, but I think I'm just as good. I just think my consistency and technique lets me down sometimes. It frustrates me. Those are the things I need to work on constantly. When I get those right over a week I can do damage. Until then, I'm going to keep falling short.

There are lots of PTCs up for grabs now. How would you feel about winning one of those events?

I'd love to win a PTC. If I can go to play snooker for three days, earn 2,000 ranking points, £10,000 and a trophy, I'll have ten of them a season, no problem. I'm up for them all-day long. Those people who play down the PTCs are the ones who are in the wrong, in my opinion. The PTCs are good tournaments and are probably just as hard to win because they are played over a short format.

After the China Open, your attention will switch to the World Championship. How much does it put a downer on your season if you don't manage to qualify for the Crucible?

Last year I didn't get to the World Championship. I lost to Luca Brecel in qualifying. It didn't happen for me in that match. Watching the World Championship when you're not there is the hardest thing. My main aim of the season is always to get there. I've never been to the quarter-finals. I'd love to get there or even to the one-table situation before the end of my career. I wonder whether I've got it left in me. It's difficult. I still feel I've got it but I need to be consistent.

There will be quite big changes to the structure of the tour next season with the money list and the flat 128 draws. How do you feel about this?
My only concern is that at the moment I'm guaranteed a certain amount of prize money each season but that's going to change. It's nice to know how much I'm guaranteed before I play any snooker so I can plan my finances. Now I'm only going to be guaranteed £500 in the Shoot-Out. I've worked really hard in my career. I've been playing the game since I was 10. I turned professional when I was 16 and have been a professional 23 years. I've worked my socks off. I started getting beat in Blackpool all the time. I've done that hard work, won lots of matches and moved my way up. It's taken me a long time to get where I am.

We all know that whatever Barry Hearn wants to do he will do. I'll go with it, but I'm not saying I'm happy with it. Barry has done a pretty decent job with snooker so far. We've got tournaments every weekend and can't really complain. I'll just go with the flow. Barry doesn't do mediocre. The big prize money is for the top positions. I've just got to deal with it. 

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