David Grace and snooker stars cue off sport’s return

Leeds cueman David Grace will make a little bit of sporting history today as the UK emerges from the national lockdown.
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Snooker’s Championship League will be the first major sports event in the country to be broadcast live, on ITV, since coronavirus wiped out the sporting calendar in March.

With the government easing sanctions on professional sport from today (June 1), snooker boss Barry Hearn has wasted little time in returning to action.

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“We will be the first major sport to get back to live televised action,” said Matchroom Sport chairman Hearn. “That’s not by chance, it’s because of the hard work and preparation we have done during the lockdown to make sure we are ready to get going again as soon as it is legal.”

David GraceDavid Grace
David Grace

The Championship League will see 64 players compete behind closed doors at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes.

First in action today is 35-year-old Grace, who faces world champion Judd Trump, Daniel Wells and Elliot Slessor.

He will be joined later in the week by fellow Leeds potter Oliver Lines and Rotherham’s Ashley Carty.

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Grace admits he is relieved to be back competing, after only managing to return to practice during the last fortnight at Leeds’s Northern Snooker Centre.

David Grace in action against Kyren Wilson on day two of the Betfred Snooker World Championships at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield in 2017 (Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire)David Grace in action against Kyren Wilson on day two of the Betfred Snooker World Championships at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield in 2017 (Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire)
David Grace in action against Kyren Wilson on day two of the Betfred Snooker World Championships at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield in 2017 (Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire)

“It’s only been in the last couple of weeks that we got permission from the government for pro players to go back into the clubs,” said Grace. “I have been playing the last two weeks, but there are very strict guidelines about what we have to do.

“It’s solo practice only, nobody else in the club, but it’s just been nice to get out again and have a bit of routine. The days were just blending into one.

“It’s the longest I have gone without a cue since I started playing. You might have a week or two off in the summer, on holiday, but you would never have 10 weeks without playing.

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“It’s so bizarre, the first day you play you feel okay, but then it hits you and it feels like you are playing with someone else’s arm for a few days.”

Grace spent last night at the venue’s hotel, with all players and staff tested for the virus before being allowed on site.

Players will play three games in one day, with the winner of the four-man group returning later in the week.

“Everyone plays all their group matches in one day,” said the world No 88. “We have to go down the day before, take the test, get swabbed.

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“Then from the minute we are tested, until we play the next day, we have to self-isolate in our hotel rooms. We are not allowed out for anything, they deliver our meals to our rooms.

“If we test positive, we have to go home straight away.

“There is no leaving the venue or hotel, it will be a safe bubble. The hotel is exclusively for snooker. They have put a lot of hard work into getting this tournament on.

“We are just going to have to do things a little bit differently – in the venue – for social distancing.

“All the staff, the ITV camera people, they will all have been tested.

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“You play your group games in one day, then go home. If you qualify, then you return for the second group stage.

“I am relieved to be back playing. When news of the tournament came out, I was absolutely buzzing.”

Snooker has not staged a tournament since the in-form Trump won the Gibraltar Open on March 15.

Joining Trump in Milton Keynes, the line-up includes former world champions Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Selby, Neil Robertson and Stuart Bingham.

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“I play Judd, Daniel Wells and Elliot Slessor,” said Grace. “I know Judd has been practicing throughout, Oliver (Lines) keeps in touch with him. He is hungry for titles.

“This (break) won’t have stopped him, he is desperate to play to try and defend his world title.”

Tomorrow, sees 24-year-old Lines in action against Jack Lisowski, Luca Brecel and Robbie Williams.

Carty, 24, plays Sunday when he tackles Australian Neil Robertson, Kurt Mafin and Ken Doherty.