Snooker’s latest teenage sensation has vowed to prove Ronnie O’Sullivan wrong when he embarks on his unlikely first professional season later this year.
Less than three miles from the Crucible where O’Sullivan delivered a damning verdict on the state of snooker’s next generation on Sunday night, 16-year-old Jamie Wilson was in the process of realising his lifelong dream.
With O’Sullivan doubtless tucked up in bed after dispatching Ding Junhui to reach the World Championship quarter-finals, Wilson was battling into the early hours and through three consecutive final-frame deciders to win a two-year place on the professional tour via the sport’s qualification format, Q School.
With 14-year-old Ukrainian Iulian Boiko already confirmed to compete on the tour next season, Wilson is far from the youngest member of a group indirectly dismissed by O’Sullivan, who described the general standard of emerging players as “so bad”, adding: “You look at them and think, ‘I would have to lose an arm and a leg to fall out of the top 50’.”
Wilson told the PA news agency: “I would love to play Ronnie, it would be a great experience and it would be even better to beat him because of all the stuff he says about amateurs. I used to follow Ronnie but I’m more of a Judd Trump fan now.”
Those involved in the sport’s youth programmes have also been critical of O’Sullivan’s comments.
Wilson’s coach Tim Dunkley, who works with him at the Waterlooville Sports Bar, says the standard among players in junior competitions has never been higher.
“I have never seen a higher standard of young players in my area,” Dunkley told PA. “Every generation we get through the club, we think it’s the ‘golden generation’, then another comes through that is even better.
“Young kids are knocking in century breaks. Jamie got his first century when he was 14, and we’ve got an eight-year-old whose highest break is 36. If this is also happening in other areas of the country, then the sport is alive and well.”
Wilson had travelled to Q School more out of hope than any realistic expectation of earning a coveted tour card. He saved the mandatory £1,000 entry fee through his prize money from local competitions, and saw it as a means to measure his game.
His stunning series of wins means he is now guaranteed a two-year shot at qualifying for all the major tournaments, but must sufficiently improve his ranking in the process to avoid having to return to Q School and potentially face relegation back to the amateur circuit in 2022.
“I’m still in shock really,” added Wilson, whose conquests included former Crucible qualifier Michael Georgiou. “I went there to improve my experience and I was not really expecting to get through. But now everything is going to change.”