Robert Milkins is in high spirits as he competes in his debut Masters tournament at Alexandra Palace on Tuesday.
The Gloucester potter has qualified for snooker’s most prestigious invitation competition for the first time in his 19-year professional career after an outstanding year.
His impressive form has seen him become the world number 13, his best-ever ranking, and enables him to test his talent against the other 15 best players from around the globe.
It could not get any tougher for Milkins, however, as he will face world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan in his opening match.
Milkins said: “It’s been a long time coming, to tell the truth, but I’m really looking forward to it.
“It’s been playing on my mind for a fair few months, trying to make sure I get the qualifying spot, and I look forward to playing Ronnie on Tuesday.”
The ‘Milkman’ will face O’Sullivan a month after being thrashed 6-0 in just 68 minutes by him at the UK Championship – his fourth defeat in four matches against him.
However, Milkins is hopeful of exacting revenge over ‘The Rocket’, who entered the tournament only two days before the deadline.
“That’s snooker. I chucked a couple of frames away early on and in the end that made all the difference,” said Milkins.
“He got on a bit of a roll and against Ronnie you can’t afford to let him go two or three up because he’s a great front-runner.
“Hopefully I’ll get off to a good start and put a bit of pressure on him.
“I want to go as far as I can, not just to beat Ronnie but to try and progress to the final or at least the semi.
“If I do beat Ronnie I don’t see why I shouldn’t go further.”
Milkins is the only player to have made a 147 break during qualifying for the World Championship, a feat he has managed twice, and his highlight of the past year also came at this tournament.
“Beating Neil (Robertson) in the Worlds was a massive achievement because beating Neil over 19 frames at the Crucible – it doesn’t come much better than that,” said Milkins.
The 37-year-old is coached by 1979 world champion Terry Griffiths, a man who, alongside a change in mentality, Milkins owes much of his improvement in form to.
He said: “I’ve added a few technical things to my game, but I’ve just been finding the consistency really.
“I’ve started to learn how to win by playing not so well whereas before if I wasn’t playing so well, nine times out of ten I would have lost.
“When I’ve struggled I’ve still managed to get over the line in a few games.
“Mentally Terry’s brilliant – he settles me. He’s great to be around and helps you out when you’re feeling down.
“He’s helped me a lot and obviously since the South West Snooker Academy has been here I’ve now got the best practice facilities in the world – proper tables and proper conditions. That’s really helped me as well.”
Perhaps the biggest factor in Milkins’ change in fortunes has been on a more personal level.
After experiencing issues with debt, lack of motivation and alcohol consumption, he has turned his life around due to having greater responsibilities.
Milkins said: “My kids keep my feet on the ground and stop me being lazy, so when I’m not practising here I’m spending my time with them.
“I suppose they’ve made a man of me really. Instead of doing what I used to do, I use all my spare time up with them.
“When things aren’t going right I often think about them.
“Snooker is not the be-all and end-all, the kids are the most important thing in my life at the moment.”
These factors are helping the ‘Milkman’ to finally deliver on his potential and rise to the top of the snooker world, and Milkins has greater ambitions for the future.
“If you ask any professional snooker player what their goal would be when they start out, it would be to win a ranking event and that’s my main goal now,” said Milkins.
“If you keep giving yourself chances, eventually something’s going to happen.
“Hopefully I can keep getting to these later stages consistently and when I do get there, my experiences of losing in a few semi-finals might help me get over the line.
“Instead of getting to semi-finals and bowing out, I want to push on and get to the final and maybe win one – that would be the icing on the cake for me.”