Snooker: Improving Joel pots his route to top

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When Joel Walker last practiced with Ronnie O’Sullivan, he was so consumed by nerves that he could barely hold his own cue.

But having gone toe-to-toe with his idol in South Yorkshire this week, the prodigiously gifted Sheffield potter now feels he is capable of y competing with the sport’s elite on a regular basis.

“It would be great psychologically to beat one of the leading players,” Walker, ranked 89th in the world, told The Star.

“Last year, I beat Stuart Bingham who has won two or three ranking events so I know I am capable of beating anybody if I perform to my maximum.”

In front of a packed crowd at the Barnsley Metrodome, O’Sullivan saw off Walker 6-1 in the qualifying rounds of the International Championship on Tuesday.

It was their first competitive meeting and the final scoreline might suggest it was a one-sided encounter but Walker certainly had his opportunities to cause a major upset, particularly before the mid-session interval.

Ultimately, the 19-year-old’s shot selection and safety play cost him dearly in the decisive moments and O’Sullivan rattled in breaks of 71, 53 and 73 to book his place on the plane to China later this month.

Walker, who practices at Hustlers Sports Bar, in Eckington, said: “I have practiced three or four times before with Ronnie. He is my idol; the first time I played him I struggled to hold my cue because I was so nervous!

“He is a different animal in a match situation. When it means more, he plays better. If he needs to play well, he will play well. If he doesn’t feel right, he will play bad or not turn up! Ronnie is a player that makes snooker and hopefully one day I will play him in a world final.”

Along with fellow Sheffield cueman Adam Duffy, Walker will next be in action in the Ruhr Open, which gets underway tomorrow. It is the fifth European Tour event of the season.