In recent years, the World Women’s Snooker Tour has become one of the most cosmopolitan series of events in our sport with players from across the globe regularly competing in our tournaments.
One region in particular that has played a significant role in the internationalisation of the tour has been Hong Kong, with several players based at its Sports Institute (HKSI) including our three-time world champion Ng On Yee having competed in tournaments over the past decade.
A driving force behind providing opportunities for female players in Hong Kong has been Wayne Griffiths – son of former world champion Terry Griffiths and qualified WPBSA Snooker Coach – who this September will celebrate his tenth anniversary since becoming HKSI Head Coach.
Laying the Foundations
Together with his team, including Alan Wong and David Roe who will be familiar to all on the women’s circuit, Griffiths has helped shape the infrastructure that has enabled players at the HKSI to achieve their potential during the past decade.
“I joined HKSI as Head Coach just before the 2010 Asian Games,” said Griffiths. “Billiard Sports joined HKSI in 2009 when the sport scored enough points to be considered for elite funding as a Tier A sport. This allowed an enhanced budget, a training grant for each player, travel expenses and a Head Coach. Unfortunately for them – that Head Coach turned out to be me!
“I wanted to employ a coach to work with me and I had known Alan Wong from a previous WPBSA coaching course. I knew he was native to Hong Kong and was well respected and liked as a junior coach. I felt Alan’s experience, coupled with his cultural knowledge and language skills made him a perfect addition for the team. Luckily for me, and for everyone else, he decided to take up our offer and join us in April 2011. We have been the core of the coaching team ever since and I couldn’t do without him!
“Michele Nip joined us as a full-time pool coach in 2016 (she had been part-time since 2012) and David Roe joined in the summer of the same year. Michele had brought up the junior pool team from a very young age and has developed them into Asian and World junior champions. David Roe, as a former top 16 professional player, was brought into to give us some high level ‘playing’ and international coaching experience, which I felt brought a good balance to the team overall. Both Michele and David have contributed massively to our achievements here in recent years.
“We also get around three visits per year from Lee Walker and Kelly Fisher as we seek to give the players as many different opportunities to grow and learn from the best. Their experience and input have also proved to be invaluable for us.”
World Women’s Snooker
Jaique Ip Wan In would be the first player from Hong Kong to compete on the World Women’s Snooker Tour, reaching the quarter-finals of the World Championship in both 2008 and 2009. In 2012 she became the first player from Hong Kong to win a ranking event at the Agnes Davies Memorial, defeating compatriot So Man Yan in the final.
At this time the Tour was based exclusively within the UK prior to becoming a subsidiary organisation of the WPBSA in 2015, providing an additional logistical challenge for Jaique and the other players who would join her in subsequent years.
“HKSI started with just four women players (the ‘golden girls’ as I believe they were known) of Ng On Yee, Ip Wan In Jaique, So Man Yan and Yu Ching Ching in 2010,” said Griffiths. “Three of these ladies were gold medal winners at the 2010 Asian Games.
“These four ladies were very keen to travel to international events to test themselves against the best players in the world. To do this we knew we had to come to the UK and enter WWS events.
“Obviously, the travel was an issue for us. It is generally 24 hours door to door for a UK trip from Hong Kong and a 7-8 hour time difference to get over. Fortunately for us however, we were well funded and supported by the HKBSCC, HKSI and the HKSAR Government. This allowed us to travel a few days early to get over the long trip and get some practice at the venue. We learned a lot of lessons along the way and this meant we felt we were getting stronger, on and off the table, with every trip we made.
“Even though we did not manage a win over Reanne Evans early on, we did start to score some positive results against other top players. This gave us all some encouragement and showed that we were moving in the right direction.
“However, Reanne was still the ‘Queen’ and Maria Catalano and Emma Bonney were the other business end players who always were tough to beat. It was around this time we felt things were becoming a little comfortable for the four ladies and we went in search of a ‘Sigmoid Leap’!
“To intensify competition, in 2013 we added another player, Wan Ka Kai, who was selected through a local TID event and went on to be Hong Kong’s second highest WWS ranked player not long after. Since then we have followed this strategy of increasing the members of the team to keep levels of motivation high.”
‘Respect but no fear’
Of course while many players from Hong Kong have gone on to establish themselves on the circuit, the most successful player to date has been our current world number two Ng On Yee, who famously ended the 10-year reign of Reanne Evans at the World Championship in 2015, going on to win the biggest tournament on the calendar three times over a four-year period from 2015-2018 and becoming world number one.
Her WWS debut came four years prior to her first world title when as a 20-year-old she crossed cues with Evans for the first time, losing 4-1 in a match that would launch a healthy rivalry that continues to this day.
“I think this was my first major overseas event with the ladies and I remember it quite vividly,” recalled Griffiths. “Regarding On Yee specifically, she was still developing on the table at that time. However, what encouraged me about her at that event was her attitude. Two things I remember in particular.
“The first was a round robin match against Revanna Umadevi from India. On Yee looked like losing the match at 1-1 and 45+ behind with three reds left. She then fluked a red and cleared with a 50 break to win on the black. This was not a massive break or a critical victory maybe, but it did show me a little about the mental make up of this young player.
“The second thing I remember was the knockout match with Reanne. On Yee did well but was still roundly beaten. However, it was On Yee’s positive attitude before, during and after the match that told me that here we had someone who mentally could mix it with the best.
“There was respect but no fear and a dogged determination to beat Reanne in the future – who at that time was pretty much seen as unbeatable. We set about breaking down what was needed to close the gap and On Yee worked diligently to achieve this. We knew there was some way to go, but that first event showed me that Hong Kong had a special player with the attitude and belief of a champion.”
Ng claimed her first WWS title at the 2012 Northern Championship, before defeating Evans for the first time on her way to winning the 2013 UK Championship. Two years later she would deliver her biggest performance to date as she defeated Evans in the semi-finals of the World Championship in Leeds, before claiming the trophy with a 6-2 success against Emma Bonney in the final.
“During the 2015 World Championship I was actually working down the road with Marco Fu in Sheffield and it was Alan Wong who guided On Yee to what was her biggest win to date. It was a great achievement. To end the reign of a dominant world champion is never easy and we all know what a great competitor Reanne is.
“This victory made sure that On Yee would be seen as one of the top female players in the world. The win made a lot of noise back in Hong Kong and was a massive boost for the sport – and for On Yee personally. In 2016 she received the coveted ‘Best of the Best’ sports award for Hong Kong for her results in 2015 and this launched her as a well-known personality in the region. For a female snooker player to win this award it was a significant step in the sport’s history in Hong Kong.
“We are all so happy to see a player with a great attitude and work ethic, who has listened and acted on the advice she has been given (rather than paying it lip service) to make the most of her talent. On Yee works hard and, maybe more importantly, she works smart. It is not an accident that the best players will be the players who are striving to improve and are never satisfied.
“This desire to get better however, has to be balanced for it not to become negative. On Yee has got this balance just about right now and it has been an honour and a pleasure for us all to be part of her journey to date.”
‘A Journey not a destination’
Since becoming world champion Ng has increasingly had the opportunity to compete against the world’s best male players at events including Q School, Challenge Tour and the 6-Red World Championship in Thailand.
“On Yee has improved considerably in the last 2 – 3 years and her game is getting closer to the men’s level – as the performance against Alan McManus in the 2019 World Championship showed,” said Griffiths. “However, she is a realist and she knows she has some way to go to consistently be at the level she needs to qualify for the men’s game through Q School or other accepted avenues.
“Our feeling has always been that if On Yee is always striving to improve enough to reach the men’s top tier, then we can be sure she will still be at or very near the top of the women’s game. This approach has worked relatively well to date.
“We are always looking for our own marginal gains as we strive to improve all our players in Hong Kong. We collect a lot of data here at HKSI in terms of skills benchmarking and matchplay ability. This factual and measurable data gives us a very good idea of where our players are in terms of reaching the next level. Through gap analysis, we then set about trying to formulate plans that will hopefully see the player improve in the key areas highlighted.
“We see this as a journey and not a destination, and the best On Yee can hope for is that she realises her full potential. If this means she is one of the first female players to play by right on the main tour, it would be an achievement she, and everyone here at the HKSI and the HKBSCC, would be very proud of. In the meantime, however, to quote our mantra here, she will focus on trying ‘to be a better player tomorrow’.
As Ng has continued to achieve success on the women’s circuit, she has been joined by further players from Hong Kong with seven currently ranked inside of the top 30. For each WWS events the HKSI runs an internal selection policy which as Griffiths explains, helps to create pressure situations to test the players.
“We are fortunate enough to have a strong squad of female players here in Hong Kong and they all get excellent support from HKBSCC, HKSI and the Hong Kong Government,” continues Griffiths. “We have no other player quite at On Yee’s level yet, but her ability and achievements are certainly inspiring them all to keep working hard to improve. So Man Yan, Ip Wan In Jaique, Ho Yee Ki, Fong Mei Mei, Cheung Yee Ting and Chu Pui Ying are all very good female players in their own right, and every one of them has supported HKSI with top results in recent years.”
The last decade has not only been significant for players based at the HKSI, but the circuit as a whole which has become more international since coming under the remit of the WPBSA in 2015. New events in mainland Europe, Asia and Oceania have led to the promotion of new talent and new opportunities for players globally, something that Griffiths is supportive of.
“The work done by the WWS team means that the Ladies’ game is now unrecognisable compared to where it was when I first attended in 2011,” explained Griffiths. “The depth and breadth of standard has improved significantly, numbers have increased (competitors and countries) and the events are now run, reported and marketed in a more professional manner.
“The women’s game now has far more respect and a lot more interest around the world. In terms of getting results however, it is has become a lot harder in recent years. Great players from the UK, mainland Europe, and especially now from China (Bai Yulu) and Thailand (Nutcharut Wongharuthai et al) have pushed the standards higher and higher.
“All these things come together to point to a very bright future for the women’s game, and all of us in Hong Kong look forward to be a part of it for many years to come!”
We would like to thank Wayne for his time and we look forward to seeing his team and all of the players from the HKSI again at upcoming tournaments.