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.
“I didn’t play well for quite a while leading up to that tournament,” 20-year-old Walker, whose 2015 Welsh Open campaign ended at the first hurdle with a 4-2 defeat against good friend Mark Joyce this afternoon, said.
“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, like Federer does.”
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.”
His meeting with Joyce was the first competitive one between the pair - who spend a lot of time together along with fellow player and mutual friend Nigel Bond, who Walker practises with at Fulwood Sports Club.
“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 was really tough.”