'˜Forty is the new 20' as experience proves key at UK Championship

As Steve Davis battled against Old Father Time to prolong his snooker career, he vowed he would be content to keep his world ranking below his age.

John Higgins during his match with Mark Selby.
John Higgins during his match with Mark Selby.

The 59-year-old six-time world champion finally packed away his cue earlier this year, accepting time had caught up with him on the green baize.

But the old adage that “there is no substitute for experience” is certainly ringing true in the world of snooker.

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“Forty is the new 20” joked Leeds veteran Peter Lines, himself a sprightly 46, and fresh from a good run at the Betway UK Championship where he knocked out defending champion Neil Robertson, 34.

And looking at the line-up for Friday’s quarter-finals at the York Barbican it proved that like good wine, snooker players improve with age.

Five-time world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan is the leader of the pack, having himself just turned 40, and still showing no sign of slowing down.

He was joined in the last eight by world No 1 Mark Selby (33), Shaun Murphy (34). Marco Fu (38) John Higgins (41), Jamie Jones (28) and Mark Williams (41).

Aged 21, Belgian Luca Brecel was the youngest competitor left standing at the Barbican out of 128 entries.

But he is the exception, and in recent times it has been the veterans who have produced eye-catching wins.

Who can forget Stuart Bingham, aged 39, winning the World Championship at the Crucible last year, while earlier this month 42-year-old Mark King won the Northern Ireland Open – the first ranking event of his professional career.

In a sport crying out for a new generation to challenge the establishment, Lines – whose own son Oliver, 21, is one of the young pretenders – believes years of competing on the Tour means players have learned to become more consistent.

“Forty is the new 20,” smiled Lines. “I think it’s because there are so many competitions, they are playing at such a consistent level.

“They are much sharper, and snooker is not a game where you should go downhill when you get to 40, it’s not a physical game.

“As long as you can keep your concentration, which the top players can, the ability is still there.

“It’s the same for the top players, they need to find that consistency, and they do. They go off during the season, but they go off less than other players.

“Mark Selby is more consistent than Barry Hawkins, Hawkins is more consistent than Dominic Dale, Dale is more consistent than Oliver, and Oliver is more consistent than me. That’s how you find your own level.

“It’s about finding a higher level of consistency, because everyone can do it on their day, as it’s proved in York.”

It was Murphy’s day on Friday in his quarter-final with rookie Brecel, the 2005 world champion strolling to a 6-1 victory.

That match was in sharp contrast to the slug-fest on the opposite table, as world champion Selby took a commanding 3-0 lead over Higgins, before the granite-like Scotsman dragged himself back into contention and go 5-4 in front. In the last month, Higgins has pocketed £300,000 in prize money – after winning the China Championship and Champion of Champions events.

But Selby levelled to take it to a decider – which saw Higgins nip out for a toilet break mid-frame – before crawling over the line, and securing a semi-final with Murphy today.

“I’m gutted,” Higgins said. “I’d rather lose 6-0 than lose 6-5.”

O’Sullivan came out on top against Welshman Mark Williams 6-2.

Lines banked £10,000 for reaching the last 32 in York, but is back in action next week in Barnsley for the German Masters qualifiers.

Having dropped out of the world’s top 64, Lines now competes as an amateur, although don’t mistake that for anything less than a professional approach.

He said: “I am in the qualifiers at Barnsley next week, then off to the Scotland Open the week after.

“People say ‘you want a bit of time off at Christmas’, but you would still rather have it where you have loads of tournaments than no events to play at.

“I am not one of these who likes to moan about it being too busy, the week before Christmas, everyone’s working the week before Christmas aren’t they?” he asked.

“The more matches you are winning, the more money you are earning.”