Mark Davis will celebrate three decades as a professional snooker player next year and he feels his game is as good as ever as he still hunts down that illusive first ranking title.
Davis turned 48 this year but has kept his world ranking lower than his age, standing at number 40 and still competing with the elite of the game.
The Sussex native turned pro in 1991 when the sport, and the world, had an entirely different landscape and he, of course, has changed in those 29 years as well.
Far from being concerned about the rigours of his veteran status, Davis feels his game is in great shape after work with a number of coaches and still knows that a tournament win is within reach, despite evading him for so long.
‘I know I’m nearer the end of my career than the beginning, I live in the real world, but I also know that I’ve really started to play well,’ Davis told Metro.co.uk.
‘I’ve been working with Chris Henry for a couple of years, I’ve worked with Terry Griffiths before that, it’s all different things you pick up, different practice routines. It gives you the enthusiasm to practice and I feel like I’m playing well.
‘I don’t feel like my game is declining towards dropping off tour, I feel my game’s there and I feel like on any given week I can play some good stuff.
‘Listen, it would be lovely to win a tournament before I quit, it really would, I’d love it to happen so yeah, that’s my aim. But I aim to play how I want to play, don’t get too bogged down, fluent, first shot you see, play it. I know if I play like that, there’s a good chance I’ll play at a pretty decent level and that’s all you can do really.
‘It doesn’t mean you’re going to win, I played well at the English Open a couple of years ago, it wasn’t quite to be in the end.’
The 2018 English Open was as close as Davis has come to that prized ranking title, and he came very close indeed, leading Stuart Bingham 7-6 before the former world champion powered to a 9-7 victory.
The Battler from Hastings wants to go one step further, but retains the pragmatic approach that such a long career provides and will not put any pressure on himself.
‘I’ll just keep practicing and hopefully I’ll have a week where it’s my week and it would be great to win a tournament, it really would,’ he said.
‘But listen, if I finish my career without winning a tournament then I won’t lose any sleep over it, I can’t be doing with regrets, it’ll be disappointing but I’ll have no one to blame but myself.
‘I’ve had 30 years on tour, God knows how many tournaments that is, but it’s a lot and if I can’t win a tournament out of them lot then it’s not unlucky is it?
‘I’ve obviously not been good enough over all those weeks and years, I’ll deal with that myself and move on.’
Davis may not have claimed a ranking title yet, but he has had a wonderful career, winning two Six-red World Championship titles, being ranked as high as number 12 and maintaining his tour status for three decades, which is an incredible achievement in itself and something he is rightly proud of.
‘I’ve not won any ranking events but I’ve travelled the world playing snooker, been to places I’d never have gone to,’ said Mark. ‘I’ve been there playing a sport I love for a living. It’s not all about winning, I’ve been lucky, earning a living playing snooker, that’s not a bad thing to do.
‘I’m quite proud of never dropping off, never going to Q School, been there since 1991. You want to be up there competing, but it’s a pretty good achievement because the tour is tough. Especially years ago when you only had six tournaments, if you had a bad spell then you were in trouble.
‘I’m reasonably proud of the 30 years, it’s good. You want to push on and aim higher, but thinking about it, it is pretty good because there are a lot of good players that have dropped off, a hell of a lot of good players.
‘Michael White is the prime example, he was in the top 16 and he’s just dropped off. That shows how quick it can go, it’s amazing. I’ve played him a few times and always rated him, I certainly wouldn’t have had him dropping off the tour, but it shows you it’s a tough game and it can be hard to turn it around.’
Undoubtedly 30 years of competing takes its toll on the love of the game and Davis admits that while the competitive edge will never disappear, the enjoyment has fizzled out over the years.
He fully recognises the privilege of his position, but after three decades it is tough to muster the enthusiasm that was once there.
‘To be honest, it is more of a job and it’s been like that for a few years,’ he said. ‘I’ve done it a long time. I don’t mind it, don’t get me wrong, sometimes I enjoy practicing and some of the tournaments, but more often than not I do treat it as more of a job.
‘The practice, traveling to the tournaments and playing. I wish I enjoyed it more, I really do, because I’m sure I’d probably play better if I had the enthusiasm.
‘There’s nothing wrong with that really. I wish I was a bit more like Stuart Bingham or someone like that, loved everything about it, because I’m sure it would do me good and I’d probably improve my level a bit. But it gets harder and harder every year.
‘I know players who have been playing as long as me who still love it all and good luck to them but everyone’s different. I’ve found the traveling harder the last few years. Once I’m there I always try my best, of course I do, but I can find it quite difficult with all the travelling, it’s more like, “I’m off to work now.”
The constant travel is often recognised as the toughest part of the sport for players, but the nature of the game itself puts a mental strain on them as well.
Davis has not suffered with the depression that has affected many other professionals, but he can certainly see how mental health problems can arise from the sometimes painfully difficult sport.
‘In snooker, you’re sitting down so much, your opponent’s at the table and it’s very easy for your mind to start wandering,’ Davis explained. ‘Things will get in your head that you don’t want to get in your head, I think that’s why it’s one of the toughest games there is.
‘A lot of sports you’re playing against someone, playing all the time, whereas snooker you can be sitting out for two or three frames, thirty minutes or more in your seat. Nothing else to do except your thoughts, and those thoughts can go from alright to very bad.
‘You’ve got to be ready for when you get a chance but if those thoughts going round your head are not the ones you want, that chance can look very difficult when you get to the table.
‘That’s why it’s so tough, there’s nothing you can do when your opponent’s at the table.
‘I know a few of the players have had issues with being away and on their own so much, I’ve never gone down that road but I’ve had spells where I think “I’m mentally struggling here a bit.”
‘Maybe because I’ve been doing it for so long, but I’ve never got to a stage where it’s got really bad, but I’ve had little spells where I’ve been really struggling and I’ve thought, “what’s going on here?”
‘I know players who have had it a lot worse than that when we’re off traveling in China or wherever. Everyone’s different and it does affect people a lot.
‘People can dismiss it because we’re off travelling the world playing snooker for a living, but there are multi-millionaires that have had depression, it’s not all about what life you’ve got. Snooker is a lot of time on your own. There’s a good bunch of lads on tour, but a lot of time on your own can get to you eventually.’
Davis has seen almost everything in his time in snooker, but had a new experience last week at the European Masters when his cue went missing.
The veteran was forced to pull out of the event after he lost his most important possession in a Milton Keynes car park, but what was a horrible story had a happy ending as the power of social media was, in a rare occurrence, harnessed for good.
Thanks to the help of fellow players and the wider snooker community, the cue was found and returned before the end of the day.
‘It was an absolute mad day,’ Mark explained. ‘I came out the hotel, left it against the side of the car, put something in the boot and in no time at all I had a complete brain freeze, forgot where my cue was and just drove off.
‘I’ve never done anything like it in my life. I didn’t hear it fall, didn’t see it, didn’t drive over it, so it was such a freak thing.
‘I drove off, realised what’s happened maybe 10-15 minutes later, rushed back to the hotel and it’s not there. I was quietly confident it would be there, even though I was panicking, but when it wasn’t I had a real sick feeling in my stomach, it was horrible.
‘I went to the venue and let them know I’d pulled out. People said I should just get another cue but there wasn’t time and what’s the point? I don’t think I’ve ever beaten [Mark] Selby [his next opponent] with my own cue, never mind someone else’s, it’s ridiculous.
‘If I could have got a cue, if there was one sitting there I would have had a go, but there wasn’t. My head was gone as well, all over the place and you can’t play snooker when your head’s not with it, so it wasn’t really an option.
‘I got home and spoke to the press guys who put something out there with my email on and I got a message later that afternoon saying their friend had found the cue and they’d been trying to contact me. I drove up there and it was all sorted within about 12 hours.
‘I get on with most of the tour, they’re a decent set of guys, they really are..
‘Alan McManus put something out there without asking or anything, these guys don’t have to do these things. Mark Williams, he’s got a lot of followers and put something up there.
‘I really appreciated it. I’m not really on social media but it’s a seriously powerful tool. I wouldn’t have got that cue back without it. I’m really grateful for that and thankful for everyone who helped out.’
Davis has had the cue for over two decades, but admits it was just the sentimental side of it that had him so worried, and not too long ago he would have been happy to lose it.
‘I’ve actually been playing quite well with it. If it was a year ago I’d probably have paid them to take it, I was playing that bad,’ he said.
‘But I’ve had the cue a long time, it would have been more a sentimental problem.
‘Changing cues is more about the mentality. I’m probably not the best mentally in the game, I’m the first to admit that, so it can be difficult. It could have been a long road with getting my head round a new cue and trusting it under pressure.
‘At professional level, it’s about how you can mentally deal with it, I don’t know what would have happened. It might now, because I lost it, thought I wouldn’t see it again and got it back, might give me a little boost mentally, who knows?
‘I’ve never pulled out because of something like that and I never want to again. It was a horrible, horrible day, but it ended on a good note and we can move on now.’
Davis moves on at the Championship League this weekend, before another challenge for the English Open title later this month as he looks for a first title that would be richly deserved and hugely popular throughout the sport.
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