After years of heartbreak, comebacks, sacrifice and dedication, Kyren Wilson’s run to the final of 2020 World Snooker Championships ought to have been one of the most memorable fortnights of his family’s lives.
But, due to national restrictions in place, it was nearly jeopardised.
“For Kyren’s first few matches, we weren’t allowed to go,” says Sonya Wilson, mother of snooker’s world No. 4, Kyren.
“I actually wrote a letter to World Snooker saying how disappointed I was that we couldn’t be there to support him. They were great, saying they were doing all they could to make it happen.”
The final between Kyren and Ronnie O’Sullivan, across August 15-16, was eventually allowed to be played in front of an audience.
“I can’t imagine what it would like if we couldn’t have been there. Even though he lost, I felt immensely proud – and, I don’t know, I always had the feeling that if it’s not this year, it’s not going to be long.”
Sonya’s confidence that she will experience another occasion like that one comes from her son himself.
When he was growing up, Kyren “made it very clear that he intended to be world champion”, and – despite that defeat to Ronnie O’Sullivan – is well on his way to keeping that promise after collecting three ranking titles and reaching two Triple Crown finals before the age of 29.
Indeed, such is his drive and work ethic that Sonya has only ever had to tear him away from the practice table.
“The thing with Kyren is that he puts too much pressure on himself,” she says. “He doesn’t need anybody else to do it for him.
“He’s always had the ability, but he’s sometimes blocked himself.
“When he fell off the tour (in 2011) after his first season, he needed reminding of what a great life he could have playing the sport that he loves. We gave him a bit of tough love and sent him off to work in a bar so that he’d realise what life is like for most people.”
Sonya laughs. “I remember he went out for his 21st birthday and got totally drunk, and then had to go and shift barrels of beer around while trying not to be sick the next day.
“It made him realise that, while he had to work hard, he had it pretty good being a professional sportsman.”
Less than 12 months later, Kyren was back on the tour.
“I’m so happy with what a great life he has,” says Sonya. “He has a beautiful house, beautiful wife, two gorgeous children.
“To me, he has the very best possible start. That makes me feel comfortable.”
Sonya and her husband Rob’s younger son, Taylor, admits that he “didn’t take much interest” in Kyren’s snooker during those early years.
But that changed in 2018, when he was offered a life-changing experience by his brother.
“I was always a bit of an adrenaline junkie,” he says. “I wanted to play football, rugby, tennis. Snooker was a little too quiet and slow for me.
“But then about two years ago, Kyren handed me the chance to travel around the world, eating the best food and helping with his career.
“I’d just come out of a long-term relationship and was on a bit of a downer, so he kind of saved me. But he also saved himself, because he found it quite lonely, travelling all the time, particularly in China when the time difference is difficult and there’s nobody to talk to.”
Taylor is now looking into training as a snooker coach after discovering an enthusiasm for the game.
“I absolutely love it,” says Sonya, when asked about her son’s working relationship. “You hear of players who look after their parents after they’ve had some success, but we always said that we don’t want anything from him. We just wanted him to look after Taylor.
“I know it took Kyren a while to respect what his younger brother had to say about his game, but it’s working well now. Me and their dad feel like we’ve done our bit – we can sit back and relax, and wherever they go from here is up to them.”
But Kyren, still known as one of the most dedicated and focused professionals, still feels the pain of a defeat as heavily as ever.
“There are certain losses that he hangs onto more than others,” she says. “He lost 9-2 to Ronnie in the 2017 English Open final and held onto it for a long time.
“He watches them back and he sees where he could have done something differently, which makes it more difficult for him to let go.”
Watching Kyren win or lose is tough on the family, too.
“I shouldn’t really say it, but my dad is the worst person to sit next to when we’re watching Kyren play snooker,” says Taylor, laughing.
“He’ll be muttering under his breath, swearing, getting frustrated. To be honest, I like sitting on my own with my headphones in.”
Sonya agrees. “Sometimes I have to go into another room and watch on my own because his dad’s driving me nuts. It’s because he knows the game better than I do and he gets very passionate.
“I like it to be silent. I haven’t got any control over it, I can’t do anything, so I might as well try and relax. We’ve spent time with other parents who are nervous wrecks and can’t understand how I stay so relaxed.
“I watch every shot of every match, but ultimately it’s completely in his hands.”
For both Sonya and Taylor, nerves and tension peaked during the semi-final of the World Championships earlier this year, when Kyren and Anthony McGill played out a 62-minute deciding frame that will be remembered as one of the most dramatic in the history of the sport.
“That was absolute carnage,” says Taylor. “I was pacing around the whole venue, I couldn’t sit still.
“I think I did 20,000 steps that day, just charging around the Crucible. Jimmy White even mentioned on Eurosport that he’d seen me walking up and down the road outside the venue.”
Taylor’s pedometer will be even busier than that if Kyren one day fulfils his childhood ambition of winning the title in Sheffield.
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