Snooker prodigy Joel Walker believes that emulating the lifestyle of his sporting idol Roger Federer was the key to his breakthrough at the Welsh Open 12 months ago.
Sheffield’s Walker was the big story in Newport last year with his run to the quarter-finals, where he beat defending champion Stephen Maguire, world number 14 Mark Davis and former number three James Wattana along the way.
He was one frame away from pulling off one of the biggest shocks of all time when he led world number three Ding Junhui 4-2 in the last eight. But, after missing a chance to win, his opponent took full advantage by knocking in back-to-back centuries to eventually progress to the semi-finals.
The 20-year-old put the inspiration behind his run in Wales down to adapting his preparation for the event to that similar of seven-time Wimbledon champion Federer, who Walker regards as the ‘ultimate sportsman on and off the court’.
“I didn’t play well for quite a while leading up to that tournament,” he explained.
“I concentrated on things outside of snooker like fitness, preparing myself and treating it like a true professional sportsman.
“I tried being more relaxed but, at the same time, taking it seriously and working hard to get the best out of myself.”
Walker had yet to really make his mark on the big stage going into the event, but took plenty of positives following his exploits at the Newport Centre.
“I learnt a lot about myself,” he admitted.
“I know what I’m capable of and that I can go really far in tournaments, but that was the first major ranking event that I’d done well in.
“When I played Ding in the quarter-finals, it was down to one table and my first match on TV and I loved every minute of it.
“I brought the best out of him to beat me, and my run to the quarters gave me more belief that I can beat good players.”
Fast forward a year and Walker is back for more at a new venue in Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena. He is excited about playing there for the first time and will not be daunted by the occasion.
“It’s just the same as any other tournament – you just have to play Snooker no matter where it is and do your best,” he said.
“The Welsh fans are really good, I really liked it in Newport and I’m sure Cardiff will be just as good.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s going to be like.”
He is up against good friend Mark Joyce on Monday in the first round for what will be the first ever meeting between the players.
They spend a lot of time together along with fellow player and mutual friend Nigel Bond, who Walker practises with at Fulwood Sports Club, and the youngster will not be taking the former UK Championship quarter-finalist lightly.
“I’ve shared rooms with him at European Tour events and he’s a really nice guy,” he said.
“He’s a great player and it’s going to be a tough match.”