The Big Interview: "I just don't want the pressure of snooker any more" says Tony Drago
He was the supremely-talented yet erratic great entertainer of snooker but these days he's the linchpin of Europe's Mosconi Cup bid. Betting.betfair.com caught up with Tony Drago.
The Mosconi Cup is pool's equivalent of the Ryder Cup in golf where Europe play America.
So who better to talk to than Europe's star player Tony Drago - and we weren't at all jealous, honest, when he got on the plane at Heathrow to head for Malta and we turned the other way to the frosty car park!
Tony, tell us about the Mosconi Cup.
It's a great tournament, really exciting, and just like the for the golfers it's brilliant when you turn what's normally an individual sport into a team event. There's so much extra pressure.
It's a big thing for your home country Malta to be playing host then?
Yeah, it is, it really is. I've always hoped that one day we might have a big pool tournament there, but to have the biggest is unbelievable.
So tell us about Malta - do your tourist board bit!
It's a lovely country. I can't promise you fine weather now because it is December, but if it was in May or June I would guarantee you a paradise. At the moment it's still Malta though, still the same beautiful place even if the weather doesn't give all the visitors so much fun. We're there to do a job for pool though, so we don't really care.
How much time do you spend there these days and how much on the road?
Not enough. I'd love to be there more. It tends to be just two weeks in the summer now, and I will spend Christmas there after the Mosconi Cup - but then I'll come back and spend New Year here because I definitely want to be here for the darts. I never miss that, I always want to be here for Alexandra Palace for the last few days to watch the semi-finals and finals.
I love darts, and I'm a very, very good friend of Wayne Mardle so hopefully when I come back he'll still be in it so I can go and give him some support.
Aren't you a big tennis fan too?
I am, that's my favourite sport. I've never played at all, in fact I didn't like it when I was young, but after I started coming over to England a lot and watched it on television I got hooked on it. I'm in love with it. Tennis is definitely my favourite, especially once the Grand Slams start, the US Open or Australian and they show matches at three or four in the morning, it's that quiet and you just sit in front of the TV watching tennis. I just love it.
Sounds good, with a glass of wine or a beer in hand?
Well actually no because I'm teetotal. I don't drink alcohol at all. I'm 43 and I've not touched it for at least 20 years. I'd like to tell you it's because I'm a dedicated sportsman but it's because it just doesn't agree with me. If I drank I used to get sick all the time and if I wasn't sick I had to make myself sick because I was too dizzy. It's obviously not for me so I decided I had to stop it for good and that was that
Back to the Mosconi Cup - you were Most Valuable Player when Europe won last year
Yes - sometimes you need some luck. At the start I lost my doubles match which I was very disappointed about, and then I went 5-1 down straight away against Rodney Morris, but then I won 6-5 and won all my matches, and I was the hero of the team. But that's how sport is. I could have been easily zero. If I lost that 6-1 and lost another two it would definitely have been zero! Sometimes you need some luck. We were all heroes that time but I won the MVP so obviously I was the best player. I won all my matches, but I was maybe one rack away from losing them all.
We think of pool as an American game so they should always start favourites, right?
No way - Europe is stronger than America. And I'm not just talking about our teams for this week. We can play the next five years and have a different five players every year, and they couldn't afford to do that. They have like eight or nine great players and we have 30 or 40 great ones in Europe.
So what made you change from snooker to pool as your main focus?
I haven't changed really. I did play in pool when I was still in the top ten in snooker. Now I've dropped down the rankings and for every snooker tournament there are ten or eleven pool tournaments. That's why people think I play more pool.
Can you get back into the top rankings at snooker?
It depends what top you are talking about. If you say top 50 then maybe. If you say top ten then I'd say no. I'm 43 years old and that's not much age, but to do it you have to play full time and do like seven hours a day, and I don't want to do that. I've been doing it for so long. I just don't want that pressure any more. I had it for so long. Pool gives me that luxury because you can still play competitive stuff but not with as much pressure.
What are the differences in the two sports then? A smaller table is obvious but we mean what's the difference for somebody who plays both games at a top level?
It's all in the mind. It's much easier to pot the balls than in snooker, but then again you are only playing on one ball all the time. In snooker if you lose position on one ball you might get lucky and can play another one. Now we all know snooker has a bigger table and smaller pockets and is maybe harder and more skilful, but it's more intense in pool because you have to keep clearing up. You are really expected to. In snooker even if the balls are nice you are not expected to make 100s all the time because no-one does - not unless you are Ronnie O'Sullivan, anyway . . .
Does it suit your temperament better?
I tell you what: my temperament was my downfall in snooker. I came in the days with people like Steve Davis, Cliff Thorburn and Terry Griffiths, and they used to kill you, you know. These days Ronnie will just knock you out, but those guys used to jab you, jab you and kill you slowly. My temperament is great for me in pool. I always had bottle, that was never my problem. But I used to get very annoyed with slow players. In pool even the slow players have to come out and play attacking, and that suits me down to the ground. That's why I'm more successful in pool than I ever was in snooker
You'd like the shot clock then?
Oh yes, it's a pity - me and Barry Hearn are very good friends and he told me many times: 'The Premier League would suit you down to the ground, but it would have been false if I put you in it because you've dropped down the rankings so much.' He's right. You can't put somebody who's ranked in the 70s in the Premier League because then people would come and say 'What about me?' and rightly so.
But that would suit me, believe me. That might have been the first tournament I'd have maybe won - who knows? When I was playing well I used to put people off by being so fast without a clock, imagine what I could have done with it
Have a safe flight, thanks for your time, and we've a free £50 bet for a favourite charity
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