An email conversation with snooker starlet Liu Chuang: 'Ronnie is the best in the world. I have a small chance'

A shot at the Rocket on Crucible debut; Joining the queue to break out of China; Chasing pots and prizes on world tour
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The Independent Online

You are the fourth 17-year-old to play in the World Championship. Stephen Hendry (in 1986) lost in the first round and so did Ronnie O'Sullivan (1993) and Judd Trump (2007). In your first match at The Crucible, which begins on Wednesday, you will play your hero, O'Sullivan. Can you beat him to produce what would be the biggest shock ever? Ronnie is the best snooker player in the world, so it will be difficult. I think I still have a chance, even if it is a very small chance. I will try my best.

And are you more nervous or excited? And why is O'Sullivan your hero? I have both feelings. Not only is Ronnie my snooker idol, because of his character – I admire his playing style. He can play with either hand! It's so enjoyable to watch him.

Ronnie got into trouble at the China Open last month for making lewd comments and gestures at a press conference, for which he has since apologised. Did you see it on television? What did you think? Did it damage his reputation in China? I didn't see it on TV, however I know about this incident. I don't know exactly what happened, but I think Ronnie was only joking around. I don't think this will damage his reputation in China because his intention was not to offend anyone on purpose.

Tell us about how you became a professional snooker player. I grew up in Liaoning province in north-east China. People play snooker in clubs and also at tables in the street. Near my parents' house there is a snooker table and when I was 10 I played on it and liked it a lot. My father noticed my potential. He supported me, as did the person who owns that table, who became my first coach. When I was 13 – four years ago – I travelled thousands of miles to play in southern China, where there are more professionals. They saw me play, and helped me improve. I began to play competitive matches. Last year, the chairman of the Asian Snooker Association saw my potential. I had a wild card in the China Open, winning one match before losing to Ronnie. I also reached the quarter-finals of the Asia Cup. I was then offered the chance to study at the World Snooker Academy in Sheffield. Now I'm going to play at The Crucible!

You had to win five qualifying matches to get there. How did you celebrate? After beating Dominic Dale in the fifth match, I called my parents in China. It was midnight. They had followed the game via online scoring. I didn't celebrate in England, but I was really excited.

You are based at the Sheffield academy now. What do you think of the city and of England? And do you miss home? I normally stay within Sheffield and rarely go to other places in England. It is quite a boring life here for us, as I can't speak English – an interpreter friend has helped me with this – and can't go out a lot. It's not like that in China, where you can go anywhere you want.

Have you been to The Crucible before as a spectator? What do you think of the venue? I went to watch this year's draw. That was my first time at The Crucible, which I had only seen on TV. It feels quite old – different from what I've seen on the television.

There are four Chinese players in the main draw this year, a record number: yourself, Ding Junhui, his opponent Marcu Fu, from Hong Kong, and Liang Wenbo, who plays Ken Doherty. Is the future of snooker Chinese? And if you don't win the world title, which Chinese player would you bet on? Yes, I think the future of snooker is in China. There are so many talented young players there. Living in Sheffield, there don't seem to be as many people playing snooker in England as in China. Ding Junhui is my favourite Chinese player for the title.

How famous are you at home in China? And are snooker players becoming as popular as icons such as basketball's Yao Ming and the hurdler Liu Xiang? Ding is very famous. And a lot of people might know about me now I'm going to play at The Crucible. Snooker is very popular back home, nearly everyone likes watching.

This year China hosts the Beijing Olympics. Will you go to the Games? What do Chinese people think of hosting the Games? If I have the time and the opportunity I want to watch the Games. I haven't decided what event. Anything would be interesting. The Chinese general public all think hosting the Olympics is a good thing, a chance to let the world know the real China.

The Olympic torch relay has been disrupted by protests about Tibet. You have spent time back in China recently. Were these events reported there? What do ordinary Chinese people think about the protests? Yes, the events were reported in China and I have read about them as well, especially what happened in France. As a snooker player, my job is to play matches, not be a politician.

Apart from snooker, what are you main sporting interests? Table tennis, football and basketball. I can't play them but I like watching.

What's you favourite English food? Fish and chips. I normally don't eat it. I always go to KFC and McDonald's.

You can host a dinner party for six guests from any country, any walk of life and any point in history. Who would you invite? I would invite six of my snooker friends. I feel happy with them, we have so many common things to talk about. We normally meet at tournaments in China, where there is always a welcome party with really good food. Just being with good friends, talking about what you've been doing, is so enjoyable.

Attachment

* Name Liu Chuang.

* Age 17.

* Born Liaoning Province, China, 6 June 1990.

* Turned pro 2007.

* Provisional ranking 91.

* Lives Sheffield (based at the World Snooker Academy as one of six young Chinese players on the tour).

* Junior career Runner-up in national junior tournament, 2005; reached final of senior event in China, 2006.

* Senior career Wild card for 2007 China Open, beating Andy Hicks 5-4 before losing 5-1 to Ronnie O'Sullivan. Five qualifying matches for 2008 World Championship: bt Colin Mitchell (10-0); Lee Walker (10-9); world No 58 Joe Delaney (10-5); No 35 David Gray (10-5); No 31 Dominic Dale (10-9).

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