|2020 Dafabet Masters|
|Venue: Alexandra Palace, London Dates: 12-19 January|
|Coverage: Watch live across BBC Two, BBC iPlayer, BBC Red Button, Connected TV, the BBC Sport website and mobile app.|
Chinese superstar Ding Junhui says a carefree approach to his snooker is behind his impressive return to form.
World number nine Ding was at his imperious best as he won a third UK Championship title in December and he remains confident as he prepares to get the 2020 Masters under way on Sunday.
The 2011 Masters champion, who faces Joe Perry in the first round, told BBC Sport: “I was punishing myself.
“Every shot and every frame, I kept the bad things around me.”
Before winning his 14th ranking event at the end of 2019, Ding had not lifted a ranking title since 2017.
But a change in management just six weeks before the tournament in York, along with a new mindset and smarter practice regime, has seemingly had a revitalising effect.
“I was too hard on myself. and a snooker player shouldn’t do this,” said Ding, who is now working with Django Fung, the man who also manages world number one Judd Trump.
“I have learned to deal with defeat, failure and bad things. I need to forget it.”
Ding’s success earned him a fourth win in one of snooker’s ‘Triple Crown’ events. The World Championship – the sport’s other showpiece event in the ‘Big Three’ – still eludes him, but Ding feels he is in a good place to add to his tally at London’s Alexandra Palace this week.
Since beating Marco Fu 10-4 in the Masters final nine years ago, the 32-year-old has only twice gone beyond the first round in eight attempts.
The Sheffield-based player said he has improved his concentration and has been trying to make sure he is “better when having a bad day”.
Playing with a plan and dealing with pressure
“I am confident. I played well at the UK Championship, some of the best [snooker] of my career,” he added. “I had a great Christmas and New Year and I enjoy this tournament and would love to win it again.
“Now I have a plan in my practice. I never used to have. I have less time but more quality and more concentration – and always a plan.
“I am still improving. Sometimes I play too aggressive. I am still learning a bit with my game. I can be stronger to compare with Stephen Hendry or Ronnie O’Sullivan. There is space to go up.
“But I have more confidence to win games. It did not use to be like that. I would not look forward to playing the big tournaments where there was more pressure.”
Ding’s more relaxed stance means he can relish the chance to perform at the Masters.
“For snooker tournaments this is huge,” he added. “It’s a great venue for snooker fans – around 2,000 people. Everyone wants to be in the Masters. It’s a special tournament. It has a long history. The Worlds means everything but this is a huge tournament.”
But although he is eager not to feel the pressure, the weight of expectation in his homeland makes that somewhat difficult.
“Being Chinese everyone expects me to win. And after the UK Championship, they think I cannot lose any more,” he explained.