If you’re a snooker or billiards fan, you’ll recognise the names Marco Fu Ka-chun and Ng On-yee, two of Hong Kong’s most famous snooker players. But now there’s another name you should add to that list: Leo Yip Kin-ling.
The 18-year-old was crowned the junior world champion at the 2018 World Junior Nine-Ball Championship in Moscow, Russia, last month. This incredible achievement came a little more than two months after he earned the Asian junior champion title at the 2018 Formosa Cup ACBS Asian Pool Championship in Taipei in Taiwan.
Leo told Young Post that these wins came off the back of a period of stagnation for the teen athlete, who said he’d never come first in an international competition before. At times, Leo admitted, he had thought about giving up playing billiards (a term that includes games like pool or snooker) in his frustration – but when reflecting on the amount of time and effort he’d put into the sport, it had been hard to simply pack it all in.
“I had the support of my family – my father in particular – to help me get back up [on my feet].”
His father was a key player in cultivating Leo’s love of billiards, he said, having introduced him to the game when he was eight years old. Leo’s dad is a cue sports coach, which means he coaches athletes in any game that uses a cue. It seemed only natural, then, that his son would go on to become one of Asia’s – if not the world’s – best young snooker players.
“I think it’s in my DNA to become a pool player,” Leo said. “Even though my father doesn’t coach me any more, he still gives me a lot of useful advice.”
Leo, who is training full-time at the Hong Kong Sports Institute and taking a part-time bridging course (a short course designed for students entering higher education) at the Education University of Hong Kong, said there is nothing more challenging during a match than keeping your calm. This, he said, is particularly hard to do when you’re the one trailing in terms of points.
“If you let nerves get to you, you make mistakes. One simple mistake can cost you the entire match.”
To keep his nerves as steady as possible, Leo listens to soothing music before a game – in contrast to the heart-pumping beats that many athletes listen to before a match.
When asked to name a quality that all professional pool players ought to possess, Leo said that sportsmanlike conduct was tremendously important, citing one instance in which his opponent refused to shake hands with him after a game. Leo was furious, and vowed to never let a defeat sway him to do the same.
“It is easy to get overemotional during a match,” he said, “But that doesn’t justify being disrespectful towards your opponents.”
Leo said that, in five year’s time, he wants to be known as one of the world’s top billiards players. It’s an aspiration that will require the teen to train even harder than he does now, and to take part in more global senior tournaments – like the 2018 WPA World Nine-Ball Championship in Doha, Qatar, in December.
“I’m very excited to attend my first senior world championship,” he said of the upcoming tournament. “I want to get through the preliminary round and, hopefully, play against Japan’s Naoyuki Oi.”
When it comes to billiards, Leo said what you wear can be just as important as the game itself – especially when it comes to influencing the way others think of it. There are still many people who do not view cue sports as a serious sport. Leo said he wants to be counted among those that change that mindset – and he said that it all starts with how you look.
“Snooker players wear bow ties and waistcoats. We hope that, with such attire, people start to see billiards as a serious sport, rather than just a game you play in [your spare time].”