Leslie cues up for shot at making Crucible

Michael Leslie with sponsor Martin Khan, owner of Itihaas Indian restaurant. Picture: Neil Hanna
Michael Leslie with sponsor Martin Khan, owner of Itihaas Indian restaurant. Picture: Neil Hanna
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Bonnyrigg snooker professional Michael Leslie begins his bid to reach the Crucible Theatre on Sunday when he takes on Thailand’s Dechawat Poomjaeng in the qualifying stages of the World Championship.

And, regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s match at the Sheffield Snooker Academy, Leslie, 20, in his first season as professional, has been backed to make great strides in the game.

Retired Chris Small, the youngest player ever to win on his Crucible debut (10–7 against Doug Mountjoy aged 18 in 1992), believes Leslie will take a lot from the qualifying experience.

Small, a former world No. 12 and winner of the LG Cup in 2002, said: “Michael needs to think positively. He has the ability and, if he continues to work hard and learn his trade, then the results will come and he will do well in the game.

“Winning at the pro level is not all about making big breaks. You need to learn to win scrappy frames as well and there are matches when you won’t play well when you need to dig deep. He will have learned a lot already about shot selection and that will have improved his game more than if he had remained an amateur.”

Small added: “The first year as a pro is a huge step up from being an amateur. Michael is still very young at only 20 and has plenty of time. Winning the European Under-21s and getting a guaranteed two-year pro ticket was massive for him and the experience he has gained this year will have helped him enormously.”

Leslie, who faces Poomjaeng – winner of the World Amateur Championship in 2010 – over the best of 19 frames, has received an additional boost with Dalkeith Indian restaurant Itihaast agreeing to sponsor him for the event and paying his entry fee and accommodation costs.

Leslie said: “It is a fabulous gesture from owner Martin Khan and I am really grateful for his support. There isn’t a bigger snooker tournament in the world than this and I am looking forward to it. I went down to watch the qualifiers last year and the set-up is really good. I know what to expect but it still going to be a different experience actually playing.

“It has been a while since I have had a tournament but I have been working really hard on my own in the last few weeks getting ready for my match as well as seeing Chris once a week. Also, this week I have had different practice matches with some of the other Scottish pros, Alan McManus, Anthony McGill and Marcus Campbell, who all enter the tournament at a later qualification round, just to sharpen up my game and give me some extra match practice.”

Leslie faces four rounds in order to make the competition proper, as do Locarno snooker club-based player Scott Donaldson, who plays Thailand’s Thepchaiya Un-Nooh in his first match, and Glasgow’s Fraser Patrick, who must overcome Belgian teen sensation Luca Brecel.

Meanwhile, former professional Craig MacGillivray is looking go one better than last season and lift the 2013 Scottish National Snooker Championship, which gets underway on Sunday.

The 2011 Scottish National Champion fell just short of defending his title last season, losing to Glasgow’s James McBain in the final, but has had a great season so far winning three of the five main tour events. However, the former professional admits that he will have to be at the top of his game if he is going to win the National title.

MacGillivray said: “I have had a good season but winning the National title is always tough. I expect a few of the top players and possibly even some former pros will have a go at the National as it is the one everyone wants to win.”

MacGillivray’s attempt to reclaim the title may have been made even harder as Scottish snooker attempts to reverse declining participation by running qualifying across seven venues in Scotland, including the Locarno Snooker Club in Edinburgh, with 24 players qualifying to join MacGillivray and seven other seeds in the last-32 stage back at the Locarno next weekend. Entry fees are reduced to only £5 (instead of the normal £20), plus £5 table fee and the event is open to anyone including non members. All players must register by 10.30am on Sunday.