Chris Wakelin 'in the best place he's ever been' and aiming big this season
Chris Wakelin is enjoying a fine start to the season, feeling as good as he ever has and is now aiming to make strides towards the top of the sport.
The 31-year-old has been on the professional tour since 2013, enjoying some limited success as he floated around the mid-rankings, until things changed earlier this year.
Wakelin had been struggling for form early last season, but sprung back into life around Christmas and went on a run all the way to the Shoot Out title in January, claiming his first ranking crown and a very handy £50,000 in prize money.
The one-frame Shoot Out divides opinion, but the Rugby cueman could hardly care less as it has proved to be a springboard to him enjoying the game far more than he ever has and quickly climbing the rankings.
‘It’s the best place I’ve ever been in mentally,’ Wakelin told Metro.co.uk. ‘Winning a tournament and the financial pressures that were relieved by the Shoot Out has been amazing.
‘I’ve just enjoyed the game so much over the last six months. Enjoyed competing and playing. Normally I get to the point where I don’t want to go out and compete because I don’t want to disappoint myself or the people around me but I’ve been in a completely different mindset the last six months and I look forward to playing every single match.
‘It’s a tough game when things aren’t going well so you’ve got to really enjoy the high moments when they come around.’
Whether it was the Shoot Out or the World Championship, Wakelin put to bed lingering doubts in his mind over whether he was capable of getting over the line in a final when he beat Julien Leclercq with a break of 119 to lift the trophy.
The benefits are not just the silverware on the mantlepiece and the cash in the bank account, but a new sense of confidence and belief in himself.
‘I spent 10 years wondering if and when that moment would ever come, when the stars align and things happen that you only ever dreamt of,’ he said.
‘All players dream of winning something, it doesn’t matter if it’s the Shoot Out or the Mickey Mouse Open, you want to be the person standing there with the trophy.
‘It’s made a big difference to me mentally, I feel like the shackles are off now and my game’s gone through the roof in the last six months. I’ve felt better, worked harder, I’m back on the fitness train again. There’s a huge amount of positives that have come from winning the Shoot Out.
‘Some players say it doesn’t mean as much as proper events, but you still have to pot the balls under the most pressure.
‘I watched Hossein Vafaei in the final the year before pot a long red and make 70-odd and remember thinking “how has he done that under that pressure?”
‘I didn’t think I could ever stand there and do that. So to go there this year and eclipse that performance that Hossein did, it made me realise that while I thought I wasn’t good enough to achieve those sort of things, I literally went out and did it.’
Up to number 28 in the world after a good showing at the Championship League to start the campaign, Wakelin is only looking up, with the top 16 and the Masters on his mind.
‘I’m not a million miles away from getting in the Masters this year, if I can have some good performances over the next six months,’ he said.
‘If I can lift some more silverware…I guess all my targets link in together: get in the Grand Prix first, lift some silverware before Christmas, get in the Masters, not have to qualify for the World Championships. It all links in together.’
How things have improved for Wakelin recently is illustrated by having a realistic chance of reaching the Masters, when not too long ago he wouldn’t even consider such a thing.
‘I went to watch the Masters a few years ago with my old manager,’ Chris explained. ‘We were outside and he put his arm around me and said, “it’ll be amazing to come back here in a few years time…” My response was, “oh yeah I’d love to come and watch the darts.” He said, “no you plank! I meant to come and play here!”
‘Five or six years ago, my main thought of Alexandra Palace was it is where the darts is. Playing there was a dream. There’s still a little part of me thinks maybe it won’t happen, but a huge part of me that has emerged over the last six months knows that is now my goal. It’s no longer a pipe dream, it’s a potential reality if I keep doing the right things.’
Did he ever get to the darts? ‘Well…Barry [Hearn] got us tickets a few years ago for the World Championships but my car broke down on the way there!
‘It was the same car that took me to the English Open in 2016 when I beat Ronnie O’Sullivan and got to the quarter-finals. My manager said if I won that quarter-final I could leave that pile of junk in the car park with the keys in it with a ‘FREE’ sign on it.
‘But I lost and a couple of months later it broke down on the way to the darts. It’s gone now, thankfully. Those days are hopefully behind me now.’
Wakelin reached finals day at the season-opening Championship League and won his European Masters qualifier last week to make a great start to the campaign, but he is not resting on his laurels.
He started last season similarly but then hit a seriously sticky run of results, only to bounce back to Shoot Out glory and where he is today, which he puts down to a little help from a friend.
‘I had a similar start to this last season, but then I lost six matches on the trot, so I’m well aware that despite starting well I really need to keep the hammer down, because this time last season the wheels fell off.
‘I played Thepchaiya, [Joe] O’Connor, [Ben] Woollaston, [Shaun] Murphy, Tian [Pengfei] and they all played amazing against me. I don’t remember ever playing that bad but I just got a string of bad results and before you know it the season’s half way over and I’m coming to Christmas thinking I’m in jeopardy of losing my tour card.
‘I was in a really bad spot career-wise and in the rankings. A good friend of mine Jason thought I might need some extra help so he took some time off work and came over and supported me for a couple of days a week, helping me practice and came to every tournament.
‘Then before I knew it I’d won two matches to qualify for Germany, five matches in the 6 Reds qualifiers, seven matches in the Shoot Out and two more at the German Masters, beating Neil Robertson in that last one. From nowhere I’d won 16 matches on the trot after six losses in succession
‘It was very much needed, that run of form. It came at just the right time thanks to the support from a very good friend of mine. Jason’s my best mate, we laugh incessantly when we’re together, never a dull moment. He just puts me in the right frame of mind, he’s a great guy to have around.
‘His wife Kate as well is super supportive, they’ve been a big part of my life for a long time now and I’m really grateful for the help they’ve given me over the last 12 months. He’s with me this season again, he’ll be a big part of it.’
Enjoying his snooker, with the right team around him, Wakelin has stepped up a level to be a force to be reckoned with, expect to see plenty more of him this season.
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