Snooker: Higgins warns young star that pro game is a war zone

Michael Leslie

Michael Leslie

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Bonnyrigg snooker star Michael Leslie starts life as a professional on Tuesday and four-times world champion John Higgins believes he should treat the next two years as a snooker apprenticeship.

Leslie will cue up for his first match at the Wuxi Classic Qualifying stage at the Sheffield Snooker Academy against England’s Paul Davison – almost 20 years since Higgins was in the same position after joining the Professional circuit back in 1992.

Higgins said: “Just like Michael, I had won a number of Scottish tournaments and joined the circuit with plenty of confidence. However, it was very different back then as a lot of the players I was playing against were older and on the way out of the game.

“Michael is going to be up against quality opposition all the time. There will be a lot of talented young players in the same boat as well as a number of seasoned pros who will be very hard to beat.”

However, whilst offering the reality of the challenges Leslie will face, Higgins was quick to add that he believes the young cueman has what it takes to succeed in the game.

He said: “I played a game against Michael last season and he seemed to have really grown in confidence and this has helped him. He is a very heavy scorer and you need to be these days the way that the game is played. It will be interesting to see how he gets on.

“I think the next two years will be like an apprenticeship where there will likely be more lows than highs.

“It is easy to get down- hearted when you lose matches but it is important that he handles defeats in the right way and learns from them.”

Leslie, undoubtedly one of Scotland’s most successful junior players having been No. 1 ranked player and National Champion at under-16, under-19 and under-21 levels, will feature in around 20 tournaments this season.

Leslie secured his place on the professional circuit in March this year, when he won the European Under-21 Championship in Bulgaria defeating Shane Castle (England) 6-2 in the final.

And Leslie insists losing to Kacpar Filipiak of Poland in the final of the same event the previous season has actually worked out well for him.

Leslie said: “I was really disappointed having missed a great chance to turn professional. When I look back at it now, I think that it has worked out better for me as at the time, the winner only gained a one year tour card. Hopefully, by having at least two years to climb the rankings will help will give me a better chance as I will have more time to settle and adjust to the professional circuit.

“My experience so far practising with some of the professional players is that a poor safety or a missed chance usually means that you have played your last shot in the frame. You have to concentrate on every shot.”

The addition of Leslie to the Professional Tour will mean that seven Scots will participate on the circuit this season following the retirement of seven-times world champion Stephen Hendry. When asked which of the Scots he looked up to most, Leslie added: “That’s a difficult one. I really look up to all the Scottish guys on the circuit who have done us really proud with their success. If I was to choose one then it has to be John Higgins. He is the perfect player with incredible temperament and just makes the game look so easy.”

Asked about what he hoped to achieve, Leslie added: “Since my mum and dad opened up a snooker club in Bonnyrigg when I was 11, being a professional player is what I have dreamed of. Thanks to their support and the efforts of the governing body for snooker in Scotland I now have the opportunity to realise my dreams and I will always be grateful to them for that.

“Whilst my ultimate ambition now is to be world champion, my next target is to get into the top 64 in the world. If I could do that by the end of this season I would be delighted.

“I know it is going to be very difficult but while I can’t predict how I will get on, one thing for sure is that I will be working as hard as I possibly can and giving it everything I have.