Sheffield junior Jake Crofts announced himself on the world stage with an incredible run to the final of the World Snooker Federation (WSF) Junior Championship in February.
The 16-year-old was competing in his first international event at the Ding Junhui Snooker Academy and won six matches to reach the title match against Anton Kazakov, which the Ukrainian talent ultimately won 5-3 to become champion.
But far from being disheartened by narrowly missing out on the title, Crofts is hoping to take several positives forward from the tournament, which saw around 70 of the world’s best players aged Under-18 contest the title.
“At the start of the tournament I just wanted to play well and enjoy the experience,” explained Crofts. “I entered the tournament with no expectations and to be honest, probably only because it was in my hometown.
“I knew it would be my biggest event yet and would be full of international players, but I never felt under any real pressure or put any expectations on myself. I took the opportunity and decided I would try to enjoy it and hopefully qualify from the group stages at least.
“I thoroughly enjoyed not just playing in the WSF but meeting lots of other junior players from all over the world. The tournament has given me much more confidence now for when I am competing in other tournaments.”
Perhaps the most notable win during the tournament for Crofts came at the quarter-final stage, when he shocked former Polish national champion Antoni Kowalski – in a match that was live streamed – 4-3 to reach the last four.
“After being 3-0 up the match went to a deciding frame,” said Crofts. “I thought I may have blown it, then being behind in the decider also, I just knew I had to re-focus pray for a chance and go for it.
“The opportunity came, and I made a great clearance to win the match especially with the cameras rolling. I’ve never shaken so much on those last few shots but fortunately they found the pockets. I was extremely proud with that win.”
As a result of his achievement in the tournament, Crofts earned a place at the Betfred World Championship qualifying rounds as one of 16 WPBSA amateur qualifiers, just six years after he played on a full-size table for the first time.
Since then, he has been guided by renowned coach Garry Baldrey, who has been instrumental in his development both on and off the table.
“I used to sit and watch snooker on TV with my dad,” explained Crofts. “At the age of about 10 I first played on a full-size table and I soon became hooked. That’s when I regularly started playing at the Star Snooker Academy in Sheffield on a Saturday with other juniors and play more often in school holidays, in fact it’s all I ever wanted to do. I didn’t really want to go on holiday unless there were snooker or at least pool tables nearby.
“I first started having weekly coaching with Garry Baldrey when I was around 11 and he has supported me ever since. I owe him everything really as he has guided me through my development on and off the table.
“Sometimes it has been very difficult, especially helping me to try and control my ADHD and all the issues that come with that condition. Sometimes my emotions are difficult to control which also affects my technique, eating, socialising and communication with others.
“We have faced all the issues and difficulties together face on and tackle anything that presents itself. Some have been quite hard as snooker requires full concentration and lots of focus, but knowing he supports me makes things easier.”
While it was his Sheffield run that hit the headlines, Crofts has also enjoyed a successful season competing at national level at events organised by the English Partnership for Snooker and Billiards (EPSB).
Earlier this month, it was announced that Crofts has earned promotion from the Under-20 Regional Development Tour, to the Under-21 Premier Development Tour for next season. He has enjoyed close links to England’s National Governing Body, having previously been a part of the EPSB Young Leaders Programme, organised in collaboration with Sport England.
“I am very pleased to be able to join the Under-21 Tour,” said Crofts. “I am already looking forward to next season, playing different players, different places and trying my best to improve. I am also currently the Junior Under-19 ranking champion for the Sheffield and District that I’m very proud of.
“Being part of the EPSB’s Young Leaders Programme back in 2019 and helping new players who were starting their snooker journey. This gave me responsibility and confidence when I was helping to run the sessions throughout the summer school holidays. I completed modules and gained lots of knowledge.
“After completing this I was rewarded with tickets to the Masters at Alexandra Palace. This was the first time I have visited the venue. It was a great eye-opener and we were lucky enough to go backstage and meet some of the players.
“I was presented with a certificate by Cliff Thorburn and then to finish off a great day myself and the other Young Leaders got watch a match. The whole experience was very enjoyable and has motivated me to help others more especially young players starting out.”
But it is his own career that will now take centre stage and Crofts is already looking forward to the challenges ahead and perhaps one day appearing at the Crucible Theatre himself.
“I live in Sheffield and have been to the Crucible many times,” said Crofts. “I have been lucky enough to watch the World Championship there and I have even sat on the front row which is an incredible experience to be so close to the action.
“It is every snooker player’s dream to play at the Crucible and hopefully one day if I progress in the correct way I may get my chance.
“But my ambitions in the short-term are to try my best in any tournaments that I compete in and continue to practice as much as I can. Hopefully one day become a professional which would be amazing.”