Snooker: Teenage kicks: the 15-year-old eyeing world domination

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The Independent Online

As Barry Hearn sets about implementing his masterplan to drag snooker up by its boot straps, it could be that the long-term wellbeing of the sport rests in the hands of an introverted 15-year-old boy from Belgium.

Luca Brecel, still an amateur though expected to turn professional next summer, is regarded as the most naturally gifted player at his age since the three-time world champion Ronnie O'Sullivan emerged almost 20 years ago.

The future growth areas for snooker are recognised as being Eastern Europe, Germany, Austria and the Low Countries – and a superstar to emerge from Belgium would be a boon for the World Snooker chairman Hearn.

Already the youngest-ever European champion, evidence of Brecel's ability can be found on YouTube, where a maximum 147 might have beaten O'Sullivan's record of 5minutes 20seconds but for fishing out the black himself 15 times.

Yesterday he faced his idol O'Sullivan as one of eight players at the inaugural Power Snooker event in London, which features a 20-second shot-clock, a Power Ball red, subsequent power-plays and 30-minute matches for points rather than frames.

Brecel appeared to cope well with being led to the stage by a blonde bombshell, the lights and blaring music, and the usual hostile London reception for O'Sullivan's opponents – only tactical mistakes cost him a shot at victory.

O'Sullivan admitted afterwards that he, an unusually boisterous crowd and the TV audience may have witnessed the wider public unveiling of a future superstar. He said: "Luca has a massive future, and Stephen Hendry's record of seven world titles could be in danger if he keeps working at his game.

"What snooker needs is someone to come along and dominate the sport. You had that in tennis with Roger Federer and golf with Tiger Woods. Snooker hasn't had that since Hendry. Winners do it early, they are quick learners and need to be winning tournaments by the age of 18."

For his part, O'Sullivan's only slip came afterwards, when ITV presenter Matt Smith was forced to apologise live on air after an expletive passed the Rocket's lips.

Brecel's family recently moved to Maasmechelen to a bigger house capable of housing a full-size practice table, and a high degree of self-possession has proved no hindrance for this Facebook-addicted, Liverpool FC-mad teenager. Opponents have picked up on that, while some have mistaken the smile that plays across his face while clearing the table for arrogance, rather than enjoyment.

Hendry lost 4-1 to Brecel in an exhibition in Bruges back in January. He said: "Luca is a brilliant player. He reminds me of Ding Junhui, there is very little in the way of emotion shown. He just gets down and pots balls."

Brecel, while dumbstruck by O'Sullivan's tribute, is targeting Hendry's record of being the youngest player to win the world championship at 21. He said: "If Ronnie says it, it must be true. But I am just hoping to turn pro next season when I'll be 16 – and I want to be world champion. I've set myself a goal of doing it by the time I'm 19, that gives me three years after turning pro. That will be very tough, but why not?"

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