Small Wonder: Snooker pro Michael Leslie hails his coach

Michael Leslie at the table. Chris Small is pictured coaching at Locarno Snooker Club, below (Toby Williams)
Michael Leslie at the table. Chris Small is pictured coaching at Locarno Snooker Club, below (Toby Williams)
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As his first full year on the professional snooker circuit draws to a close, Bonnyrigg’s Michael Leslie has praised coach Chris Small for the role he has played in helping revive his recent fortunes.

Last week, only a few days after Leslie’s first whitewash of his pro career following a 5-0 defeat by world No.8 Shaun Murphy, the 20-year-old recovered to shock world No.65 James Wattana, a win that guarantees him a place in the last 64 stage of the Haikou World Open in China in March.

Leslie said: “I put that victory down to Chris. After the defeat to Shaun, Chris picked me up straight away and told me to forget the match and focus on the next one. He told me how to approach the match and re-assured me that if I listened to him and did what he said then I was going to win the match.”

Since Leslie achieved his dream in March 2012 of turning professional after winning the European Under-21 Championship in Bulgaria, things have not all gone to plan. In his first professional tournament in June last year, he lost 5-2 to Paul Davidson in the first round of the Wuxi Classic. That was a sign of things to come as he won only one match during the 2012/13 season. “It was a tough season and a huge learning curve for me, but I expected that in my first year,” he said. “I knew the step up from amateur to professional was a big one and that there are no easy matches on the tour.”

Season 2013/14, however, has gone much better. The 20-year-old beat Jimmy Robertson in October to qualify for the last 64 of the International Championships in China, before narrowly losing to Stuart Carrington in his first appearance on Chinese soil. “The win against Jimmy was a big one for me. Playing in China for the first time was a fantastic experience and although I lost the match, it did a lot for my confidence, as for the first time I really felt part of the tour,” said Leslie.

Victory over world No.19 Matthew Stevens in a European Tour event was quickly followed by a stunning victory over world No.37 Jack Lisowski, as Leslie recovered from 4-0 down to win 6-4 and qualify for the last 64 of the UK Championship.

Leslie said: “The victory over Matthew was my best win on paper, but to come from 4-0 down against Jack to make it through to the last 64 of the UK is definitely the best win of my career so far.”

Small, who reached a career-high ranking of 12 before a debilitating spinal condition forced him to retire in 2005, always felt Leslie would toil in his first year on the tour. “Most of the young players joining the tour are finding it hard so I can’t say I am surprised,” he said. “The tournament format now means that you can get on the tour and have to play against Ronnie O’Sullivan or John Higgins in the first round. It is a great experience for them, but you can lose 4-0 or 5-0 without doing much wrong and that can affect your confidence.

“Michael deserves a lot of credit for recovering from losing 5-0 to Shaun Murphy to go on and comfortably beat Wattana – I don’t think that would have happened last season. He has improved a lot. He is working really hard on his game, his safety game is getting better all the time and he is starting to improve tactically. I now need to help Michael work on scoring a bit higher and if he can do that and keep improving his safety and tactical play, he will just get better and better.”

By the end of the season, Leslie needs to either finish in the top 64 in the world rankings or be in the top eight players from the PTC Order of Merit out of those players not already qualified. Otherwise, his two-year pro card will expire, meaning he will need to attend Q-school in May to win his tour card back. Leslie currently sits at No.94 in the world rankings and 77 in the PTC Order of Merit, with only three ranking events left and one PTC event to go.

“I am not getting myself worried about ranking lists,” he said. “I have proved to myself this season that I belong on this circuit and that I can win at this level.”

Leslie’s pro record

March 2012: Gains two-year pro ticket by winning European Under 21 Championship in Bulgaria.

June 2012: Lost 5-2 to Paul Davidson in debut at the Wuxi Classic Qualifiers.

August 2012: Loses 4-2 to John Higgins in television debut.

December 2012: Beat Michael Wasley to record first pro victory.

April 2013: Lost 10-4 to Dechawat Poomjaeng in first appearance in World Championship Qualifiers.

October 2013: Beat Jimmy Robertson 6-4 to qualify for the last 64 of the International Championships in China.

November 2013: Defeated world No.19 Matthew Stevens (Wales) 4-3 in 1st Round of European Tour Event 6.

December 2013: Loses 6-4 to Stuart Carrington in first appearance in China in last 64 of International Championships.

December 2013: Beat world No.37 Jack Lisowski to qualify for last 64 of UK Championship, coming from 4-0 down to win 6-4.

December 2013: Defeated James Wattana 5-2 to qualify for last 64 of the Haikou World Open.