Rising snooker star Ashley Hugill believes that the flat-128 format for major ranking events is hugely beneficial for youngsters like himself trying to break through into the professional game.
The 21-year-old from Melbourne faces the biggest match of his life when he plays four-time world champion John Higgins in the International Championship qualifiers at Barnsley Metrodome on Saturday afternoon, with a place in the main stages in China at stake.
The old format saw players from outside the top 16 have to play several matches to qualify for the main stages of events, but Hugill believes the new system introduced two years ago is more suited to players in similar situations to his own.
“I think it’s a lot better for the young players coming through,” he said.
“Now, you only need to win one match to qualify for big events which leads to more experience.
“It gives you a chance to learn your trade against the best players instead of being stuck in really gruelling pre-event qualifiers against players of a similar ability.”
His development has also been aided by him plying his trade at the Star Academy in Sheffield - the home of players like Ding Junhui and also a regular practice venue for Ronnie O’Sullivan.
While he used to practice on his table at home, Hugill feels that playing four days a week against more experienced opponents has really helped benefit his own game.
“It’s been brilliant. I think I’ve really come on since I first started playing there,” he admitted.
“It’s good putting in the hours on your own as a foundation, but you need to be playing better players than yourself to improve and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
He will continue to do this when he takes on one of the legends of the game in Higgins, who was won 27 ranking titles during his career including his four world crowns.
Hugill has already played current world champion Stuart Bingham on live television this season and is very excited at the prospect of facing off against one of his idols.
“I really can’t wait - I just want it to be quarter past two on Saturday and waiting to go on,” he smiled.
“When I was watching the game as a kid, he was winning his world titles and I was looking up to him as a role model for having such a good all-round game.
“The level he plays at is something that I’m trying to build towards.”
The youngster came close to qualifying for the main tour through the Q School back in May, reaching the last 16 of the first event.
This saw him finish ninth on the Order of Merit, meaning that he will be invited to participate in the majority of this season’s tournaments should spaces need filling.
Looking forward, he is confident that further contests with the higher-ranked players will put him in a very strong position to turn professional next year.
“While I’m still an amateur, playing in these events against top players is good because I can learn from them,” he observed.
“Going into Q School, I won’t be playing such high-calibre players so I should be more than ready to play the top amateurs.
“It will all be great experience and stand me in really good stead.”