When Michael White trailed 19-year-old Steven Hallworth 4-0 at the first mid-session interval of their World Championship qualifying match back in April, the scoreline was more than enough to raise a few eyebrows, even amongst those of us inside of the snooker bubble.
Though White was able to recover to take a 10-8 victory, Hallworth had acquitted himself well and turning to the 2015/16 season is now looking to do enough to successfully retain his place on tour.
That being the case, I caught up with Steven to reflect upon his rookie professional season, look to the future and more…
PSB: Hi Steven, you have recently finished your first season as a professional, how did you find life on tour and was it what you expected?
Steven Hallworth: I found it tough. I had quite a lot of tough draws as well which didn’t help being one of the new pros on tour, but you kinda expect every game to be hard so it was always going to be a challenge for myself.
It was definitely everything I expected, I knew that it was going to be tough, but also a great experience at the same time, travelling to all of these different places where I’ve never been before and competing with some of the best players in the world. It’s a really good feeling.
PSB: I was looking earlier, you haven’t been to China yet have you?
SH: I haven’t as a pro but as an amateur I have, I represented England for the World U21’s in Beijing the year before I turned pro .
PSB: The 2015 event is at the minute, is there anyone that you fancy for it?
SH: I would probably say Zhao Xintong, or there is a Thai lad called Ratchayothin Yotharuck who has just dropped off the tour. I’ve practised with him a few times and he is a really good player so probably him.
PSB: Was that at the Star Academy in Sheffield? What is that like as a facility and what is it like to practice with people like Ding Junhui?
SH: Yeah it’s a really good environment to practice in, it’s really professional, especially when there are a lot of the Thai and the Chinese players, who are all based there.
When they are there it is really good for me to go down because I know that I am going to get good match practice all day and play all day. The tables are usually kept in good nick and the conditions are perfect, quite similar to the tournament conditions.
PSB: Are the players there approachable, do they let you play with them a lot?
SH: It was a bit daunting when I first started out and seeing the big names like Ding and Xiao Guodong and all them, but after I had been a few times and I had been chatting with them, everyone is really alright. They are all friendly and you can just ask them for a game if you want and that’s it, you crack on.
PSB: On tour were there any surprises and what have you learned most over the last year?
SH: I think I’ve learned how to control my emotions a lot this year. You come off the amateur circuit and to get on the tour as an amateur, you have got to be one of the best amateurs around and you are winning games quite regularly.
But when you get on the tour it’s the complete opposite side of the coin. You are losing (in my circumstances anyway), I lost a lot more than I won and it was a bit of a shock to the system going from being one of the best amateurs in the country to then being one of the worst professionals on the tour.
It’s a big pond, small fish sort of thing. It was tough but I don’t think that there were any shocks for me really, nothing that I didn’t expect. But like I said it was a really good experience and I’ve learned a lot from my first year on the tour, playing the good players. I’ve definitely taken a lot from it.
PSB: I watched you against Michael White at the World Championship qualifiers this year and was impressed because you didn’t go away after he came back into the match and you continued to go toe to toe with him.
SH: Yeah that game was a bit of a weird one for me because I was 4-0 up and I just remember I felt so sick after the first session when I came out. I don’t know what it was but I just felt really bad in myself and I couldn’t get myself together.
If I could have just nicked one or two of those frames and got out of the session 5-4 up or 6-3 up…before the match yeah I would have taken 5-4 down, but with the circumstances as they were I was a little bit disappointed. I had a pretty good start to the evening session but I was a bit gutted that I couldn’t finish the job off really.
PSB: But you must take confidence from that and the match against Shaun Murphy at the Welsh Open as well.
SH: Definitely, they are two of the stand out games for me last season. Although they were losses, I showed myself as a player what I can do and competing against the likes of Murphy who obviously is one of the game’s greats and Michael White he had a great season last year, won the Indian Open and the Shoot Out.
To draw him in the Worlds, I saw the draw when it first came out and thought here we go again, another tough one, but you just kinda get into the flow of things when the match starts and I was competing well.
So like I said, I was a little bit disheartened that I didn’t win it in the end, but looking back now there were definitely a lot of positives to take from it.
PSB: And now obviously you are starting your second year, it must be in the back of your mind that you have got to try and stay on tour. Is that a distraction?
SH: I wouldn’t say that it is distracting me from my training or anything. When I’m here in practising and I’m in matches it’s not something I think about. You just try to take one game at a time really, that’s all you can do.
Away from the table, yeah it is because doubts start creeping in, you have got one year to try and prove yourself.
When you first get on the tour you’ve got your two years and you think you have got all the time in the world to prove yourself, but after each game goes and obviously my first year is over now, it starts to get a bit tougher.
I have got it in the back of my mind and I’m constantly thinking it now, what will happen if and what if, what if. But I’ve just got to try and block it out really and focus on everything that I am doing.
PSB: The best way for you to try and stay on is probably through the European or Asian Tour events, it’s hard to prioritise those but you have got to be aware of that I suppose?
SH: Yeah definitely. At the start of each season I try to set myself some goals and they are probably top of my priorities, but the obviously the ranking events to try and earn some money and get to some venues would be great.
PSB: There are players like Allan Taylor, Joel Walker, James Cahill, Ross Muir who have all done a similar thing, so you know that it can be done.
SH: I think I am one of those sorts of players, I tend to start off slowly when I am in something and gradually get better as I go along.
I was the same as an amateur really, I never did anything in my early years but as I matured as a player and got my feet under the table I got a bit better as I went on so hopefully that is going to happen this year.
PSB: Will you play in the Asian Tour events if you haven’t qualified for the main ranking event alongside it?
SH: For this season yeah I think I will, because it’s a big chance for me to stay on so I will probably go to them.
PSB: Have you got any other big targets this year apart from staying on tour?
SH: I’d really like to qualify for an actual venue, where the qualifiers are played separately.
And also I just want to win a game or two (obviously to get to the Crucible would be a dream come true), but to win a game in the World Championship, just to say that I have won a game in the World Championship (laughs), that would be sort of cool!
But every game is important to me this year, I can’t really take anything for granted.
PSB: You play a bit with Stuart Carrington who is quite local to you, seeing him break into the top 64 and get to the Crucible must give you a bit of heart as well?
SH: Yeah massively, I went to watch his final qualifying game against Li Hang and also I went to his first session at the Crucible. I practice with him twice a week and seeing him do so well does spur me on, I definitely want to have a bit of that as well.
We are feeding off each other a bit now and bringing each other’s games on. He’s a better player than me at the minute but that’s sort of the level that I want to get to and then I want to improve on that.
PSB: I know that you played him in Gdynia as well last season, that must have been a bit weird for you?
SH: It was because it was the first time I have ever played really a close friend in such a big match so it is a bit of a different pressure, I don’t know what it is. It’s a weird pressure compared to a normal match. When you are playing one of your friends and you know their game it’s a bit different but we both played really well that game.
I was a little bit unlucky to lose I thought. I had a century to go 2-1 up and then he had one to go 2-2. Then I just remember being on a 48 break, on a maximum and in Gdynia they had a car in the arena or just outside of the arena which was a maximum prize and I had that in the back of my mind…
PSB: No pressure then!
SH: I’ll just always remember that black that I missed off the spot because I was going into the pack at a weird angle and I split the reds perfect all around the black but I just missed the black. He cleared up and went on to win 4-2, so I was gutted after that and thought I better not think of a max anymore! (laughs)
PSB: Have you got any other good mates on tour aside from Stuart?
SH: Yeah I’m really close with Oliver Lines from Leeds, we’re good friends off the table as well. We hang out together away from snooker and practice together a few times so he is probably one of my closest friends on the tour.
PSB: Do you think that he will draw his dad (Peter Lines) at some point this season? We are all waiting for it!
SH: I would like him to! It would be interesting to see how they would both deal with it because they are the closest father and son that I have ever known out of everyone, so it would be really interesting to see how that one pans out.
PSB: I couldn’t believe it when at the World Championship qualifiers they put them both next to each other as well…
SH: Yeah I know, Oli was saying that as well!
PSB: What do you make of him as a player? Obviously he had a great first year…
SH: Yeah he did, he had a good year and I do think that he is a good player. He has really come on, we have grown up together coming through the amateur ranks and he has always been a solid player, obviously having his dad in his corner has helped him a lot. Pete’s got a lot of knowledge and experience to offer Oli.
Oli is a very mature player for his age I think, he knows a lot about the game already and I think that’s a lot down to his dad as well.
But yeah he had a really good year last year and he won a lot of games. I think that game against Mark Selby that he won from 4-0 down was a turning point in his season because he really started to kick on after that and obviously you get such confidence from winning games like that. When you are playing with confidence you don’t think that you can lose so that’s why I think he did so well.
PSB: For people who haven’t seen you play, how would you describe your playing style?
SH: I’d say that I am quite an attacking player myself, I don’t try and hold back on the table, it depends what the circumstances are really.
I’ll always try to make an opportunity myself, if I don’t feel that something is there I’ll always try and push that little bit further to try and make something happen, I’m quite aggressive.
PSB: Is there anything in your game that you need to particularly improve or is it just all-round experience?
SH: I think all-round really, you can always keep trying to improve on what you have already got. That’s what I constantly work on, every little detail in my game.
PSB: Have you got a coach?
SH: I don’t have a coach myself, I’ve had coaches help me a little bit here and there when I have needed them but I don’t have someone that I see regularly or I can go to. But if I need a bit of help I know a few contacts that I can get in touch with and they are always happy to help.
PSB: How did you first get into snooker? I think I read somewhere that you were as young as five?
SH: I first got into cue sports when I was five, I was on a holiday and I just walked up to a pool table and started potting the balls. Apparently – I don’t remember this!
But my dad tells me it all the time and he tells everyone else all the time as well. When we got back he bought me a little half-sized table and then I had a knock on that really and from the age of between 10-12 I was tall enough to reach the big table so I got onto a full-size and just kicked on from there really.
PSB: When did you first think that you wanted to give snooker a go and not do anything else?
SH: I did my GCSEs and stuff at school, I made sure that I had a back-up plan but I would say probably between the age of 14 and 15.
Obviously since a young age I have always wanted to do it. You watch it on TV and you are in awe of what they are doing, but I’d say that I seriously started thinking about it as my GCSEs were coming to an end and I had to take one path or the other, to go with snooker or do my A-Levels, university and whatever.
So yeah I think it was around the age of 14-15 I said I was really going to give it a go now.
PSB: Have you done anything else or have you always concentrated on the snooker?
SH: I did a little bit of Christmas temp work last year but nothing really, just to earn a bit of money to put back into my snooker because it’s obviously quite expensive. But yeah I’ve done little bits but nothing really.
PSB: Who were your snooker heroes growing up?
SH: For me, I have always been a massive fan of Ronnie. I know a lot of people say it but he is obviously one of the greats for me and I like his style, how he goes about things and he just sees things that other people don’t. There’s a lot to learn from Ronnie, he has always been one of my favourites really.
PSB: How about Paul Hunter, was he around when you were growing up?
SH: I think Paul was around yeah, I don’t really remember Paul much watching him on TV but I’ve heard a lot about him and read his book, so I kinda know him, but I don’t know him if that makes sense.
PSB: In terms of finances, obviously it is not easy further down the tour, have you got a sponsor?
SH: For this season yeah I have, I’ve got a guy helping me out now, only recently it has come about. He’s called Paul Asher, he used to be a professional back in the 80’s I think.
He’s come over to the academy in Sheffield now and he saw me play at the Academy and asked if I had a sponsor and said he wanted to help me out.
He could see something in me which was nice because I had been e-mailing millions of companies trying to get someone behind me for a year and nothing came about and then all of a sudden I was in the right place at the right time and Paul wanted to help me out which was really good.
PSB: That’s good because it’s not easy is it, how did you find it last year?
SH: It was really tough last year, my dad is retired from the military but he’s having to work himself to help pay for last season when I didn’t get any funding or sponsorship so it was tough for him. Then I had to get a little job to help out, we are just all mucking in.
We are quite a good strong family unit that I have got at home which is really nice, we can all chip in and help each other which is good.
PSB: Away from the tour, what are your main hobbies when not playing snooker?
SH: I’m quite big on keeping myself fit, I do quite a lot of running and biking, I just find it quite relaxing, working out. That’s definitely my go to thing after training but otherwise I just love lazing around doing absolutely nothing, watching all the soaps and eating all the food, that’s my sort of night!
PSB: And now are you looking forward to Riga and starting back up in a week or so?
SH: Yeah definitely, sometimes it’s quite hard to come and practice when you have got nothing to practice for. I always do come to training, even if I haven’t got a tournament I’ll always come, but now there is a tournament you can really get your head down, think I’ve got a week or two to get some solid practice in and confidence up ready for the tournament so I’m really looking forward to it.
I’ve got Matthew Stevens in the first one, another toughie for me so it’s one of them that I know I can win, but I know it’s gonna be hard so I’ve got to make sure that I am ready.
Thanks to Steven for his time and best of luck to him in his bid to stay on tour this season. As he says, he will next be in action against Matthew Stevens at the Riga Open on Friday 31st July 2015.
All photographs kindly supplied by Monique Limbos.