Over the next couple of weeks I will be writing a series of posts about some of the game’s leading players, focusing on their careers, personalities and future prospects.
This first one looks at Ali Carter, a player who has realised his promise in recent seasons.
Carter first came to prominence at the 1999 Grand Prix when he beat Stephen Hendry en route to the semi-finals.
At the time this seemed like a significant breakthrough. It was a BBC event and Hendry was reigning world champion and had won the first two titles of the season.
Carter was a relative newbie but didn’t lack for self confidence and soon carved out a reputation for beating a string of established names.
But he would also develop one, whether fairly or not, for losing close matches. There was one glaring miss on a yellow against Hendry in the UK Championship and other tight contests that went against him.
However, he was also suffering from Crohn’s disease, a condition that obviously affected his performances and caused immeasurable concern for one so young.
All of the above combined to raise the question of whether he would ever live up to his early success.
Carter had been on the WPBSA’s Young Player of Distinction scheme with Shaun Murphy and Stephen Maguire but found that they were experiencing success while he had been slightly left behind.
I well recall asking Ali in a press conference at the 2005 UK Championship whether, in the light of Murphy’s world title success and Maguire’s UK triumph, he felt under pressure to emulate them.
He said that, as far as he was concerned, they weren’t better players than him and there was therefore no reason why he shouldn’t start lifting trophies.
I tended to agree that he had the game but it still remained to be seen whether he had the mental strength. In the season’s that followed he proved that he did.
Carter’s journey from the nearly man ranks to that of tournament winner began at the 2008 Championship League.
This is a popular event with the players as it affords top quality match practice with financial reward and the chance to get into the lucrative Premier League.
It was even more popular with Carter who lived only a couple of miles from the venue and he played dozens of matches without quite winning one of the groups. By appearing in all of them, though, he earned over £20,000.
More importantly, he toughened up his game on a circuit where playing opportunities seemed to be dwindling.
It was noticeable too, even in the prosaic surroundings of Crondon Park Golf Club, just how much Carter hated losing. More than once he would be berating himself as he sped away following another near failure to win a group.
But he went to the Crucible two years ago match fit and so it was that he carved out a path to the final.
It had been exhausting, especially as he wasn’t used to the rigours of the 17 day marathon. He battled long on the final Saturday to put away Joe Perry 17-15 whereas his opponent in the final, Ronnie O’Sullivan, had had the whole day off having beaten Hendry with a session to spare.
O’Sullivan would beat Carter 18-8 in the final. It was a disappointing end to the journey but there were many positives to take from the experience - not least his magnificent 147, complete with a less than straightforward final black under pressure - and take them he did, soon developing into a model of consistency.
He has appeared in at least the semi-finals eight times in the last 15 ranking tournaments, which has helped him join the top four.
In this period Carter won a maiden ranking title, the 2009 Welsh Open.
His performance in the last session against Joe Swail, when he won all six frames played, was simply superb. Carter proved he was capable of raising his game at the most important phase of the tournament.
He returned to the final last season but was blown away by an on form John Higgins. His challenge at the Crucible ultimately wilted in the semi-finals, partly because he was emotionally spent after his defeat of Shaun Murphy the previous evening and, of course, because of Neil Robertson’s superior play.
I’d be surprised if there weren’t more titles for Carter. After a few false starts he has managed to ally his self confidence to his game and find the winning formula.
I also think it helps him that he has off table interests that take up much of his time. He runs a snooker club in Chelmsford and is a qualified airline pilot. Such activities mean he is not constantly fretting about form, results and ranking.
Carter this week makes his debut in the Players Tour Championship. Like most players he will feel odd playing competitively in early July but he is the sort to grab at opportunities and make the best of them.
The challenge is to win more titles, no easy task with the game so competitive. I'm sure Ali himself would agree that while consistency is encouraging, you don't get put in the Hall of Fame (not that there is one) for reaching semi-finals. It's all about silverware and he'll be hungry for more.
It’s been a long road but Ali Carter is now one of the best players in the world, the result of dedication, self belief and, of course, his considerable talent.
And as the sport finally starts to sort itself out, he is well placed to capitalise.
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