Zak Surti is back on tour through Q School, but his battle with anxiety is as much a challenge as any opponent he will face on the professional circuit.
The 30-year-old defeated talented Belgian teenager Ben Mertens in the final round to win the second event of the season, earning his place on the tour through Q School for the second time.
The Basildon-based player admitted that the ghost of the brutal tournament in Sheffield has been lingering in his mind ever since he arrived two years ago.
“When I first came back, it’s always on my mind,” he said. ‘ I’m thinking, “I have to start well or else next year I’m going to struggle and cue back to school, I don’t want to be back there.” But it is a new beginning now.
The constant worry at Q school exemplifies the mental struggles Sure has to deal with, as he tries to fight the anxiety that makes everything so difficult for him.
Such was his mental struggles last season that he planned not to return to Q School when he left the tour, believing it would be a waste of time and money.
He said, ‘I was not even going to enter it, I felt at the end of last season I was not in the right place.’ ‘I have anxiety problems, I was struggling to play.
‘I saw names falling and thought it would be a waste of money. You’ve got [Michael] holt, [Kurt] maflin, [Andrew] Higginson, it’s terrible there. Then all the youngsters like Ben are coming.
‘I didn’t really give myself much chance and I was wasting £1,000. But me mom and brother talk me into it, I’ve got a little club now, I’m playing down there and mixing it up a bit. I feel like I have some people behind me for support.
Surety is in a position where many players are struggling to keep their dreams of snooker glory alive, but are grappling with the reality of competing in the lower reaches of the rankings.
Along with regular disappointments, lack of financial gains and issues of concern, it has become difficult for Bail to see the positive side of life on tour.
“Obviously I want to be a snooker player, that’s all I want to do,” he said. ‘But I started questioning whether I was happy or not.
‘You’re turning into tournaments and just waiting to lose. I was bursting I went to the Welsh Open last season and I couldn’t even look up, I was thinking, “Just beat me.”
‘As a result I withdrew from Turkey, didn’t play in Gibraltar, you have to play in the World Championships because it’s the World Championships. Got lost there and when I left, I thought there was no chance of me playing at my cue school, but I think we had a day extension for the deadline and I entered at the last minute.
‘I just want to calm down there. You just have to keep trying, keep playing and see where it takes you. I am a player of confidence, if I get some results then who knows what could happen. But if I behave like I’ve been in the last two years, well, I’m probably going to end up right here [at Q School],
It’s not just that Bail has to deal with feeling anxious, but the pressures of the tour have seen it get worse when he’s on the table.
‘I have struggled for years with anxiety. I struggle to make calls sometimes,’ he said. ‘Obviously snooker was always a happy place in a way. But now, I am losing, my hands are trembling, I am just a different player. I can’t play in a match like I do in practice.
‘Just being on tour is such an achievement. But you go out there and lose every week, I feel like I’m just making up numbers. Just sitting there all the time thinking, “Come on, you’ve done well to get here, kick a little.”
‘But you’re giving up and your teammates are telling you you’re bullshit. And I’m like, “Well, I’m not, I did okay to get here. I just have to stand up for a bit.”
‘The way I feel on tour, with anxiety, makes you feel like you’re trying to prove yourself to your opponent. Given a seasoned professional, you have to treat them like any other human being, any player, and just beat them. But I miss a ball and then think, “Oh, he thinks I’m bullshit, that’s his name from Telly.” But I am not 18 now, I should not think so.
It has gotten so bad at times for the 30-year-old that he is struggling to get out of his chair, wishing his opponent kept potting balls so that he could stay away from the limelight.
Anand has been taken away from his snooker and now he is back on tour and his first task is to try to regain it.
“I just have to start enjoying it,” he said. ‘Start enjoying the tournament preparation, get ready for the tournament. Don’t feel like I was thinking, “Oh my god, this is going to happen, I don’t want to go.”
‘Then I have a chance, but if I behave like I am, afraid to get out of the case, afraid to sit in my seat…
‘I got to the point last year that I didn’t even want to get out of my seat to go to the toilet. As I played Yan Bingtao, I sat in my seat thinking, “Don’t miss.”
‘All the light is on you, I was thinking, This is where I’ve always wanted to be, but also, “I wanna go to the toilet here, just prepare yourself, but then all these people are going to see Me.” So I just said, “No, you take a break, I’m just going to sit here.” It’s wrong, isn’t it, but what can you do?’
Zak has taken steps to try and manage his anxiety, seeking a professional to try and help him get the problem under control, but this is far from a quick solution.
‘I went and saw someone late last year. My friend just sorted it out because he comes to the goal and gets the balls for me and he said, “If you play like you do, you have a chance.” He just bought me a session and said, “You’re leaving.”
‘It was cool, it helped, but it wasn’t really snooker related. I just want someone to tell me how I’m thinking when I’ve missed a Black by chance and the 75 is on and I’m sitting in my chair. I’m shaking, hands everywhere, going through two liters of water in Best of Seven, it’s just chaos.’
Going through what Zak is going through is a tough way to make a living and it’s easy Ronnie O’Sullivan recalled that he would not encourage the youth into the sport because it is too difficult outside the elite in the sport.
Surety didn’t like hearing those comments from the game’s greatest player, but given his position, he could see what the Rockets meant.
‘I see where he’s coming from,’ said the surety. ‘Obviously it’s wrong for him to say things like who he is, but from my personal experience, I get what he’s saying.
‘I don’t even like doing it, I just know I’m good at it and if I set my mind I know I have a chance. This is a strange habit.’
MORE: Aaron Hill, Zak Surti, Sanderson Lamm and Adam Duffy come through Q school
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