The new life of Jak Jones, the Welshman whose world will never be the same again

-Credit: (Image: Instagram)
-Credit: (Image: Instagram)

"It was the first time she'd ever seen me play.

"She'd never watched me on TV live. Never watched me in person live. That was the very first time she saw me."

Last month's World Championship was transformative in more ways than one for Jak Jones. After becoming only the ninth qualifier to reach a Crucible final, the Cwmbran native has now been elevated into the top 16 snooker players in the world - netting a potentially life-changing £250,000 in the process.

Things will clearly never be the same for the 30-year-old. But this was also a breakthrough for proud mother Debbie, who up until that compelling final had never watched her son play.

"She just gets extremely nervous," Jones tells WalesOnline. "I've spoken to other people and I think it's quite common with mothers.

"A lot of mothers get nervous and struggle to watch, while the fathers are the ones who are always watching.

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"If I'm on TV at home she'll keep herself occupied around the house. Ironing, cleaning or stuff like that. She just pretends it's not happening.

"Then one of my brothers gives her the result. She just can't deal with the nerves. So she's never been able to watch."

One can perhaps sympathise a little.

Saudi Arabia's efforts to buy up every piece of sporting real estate in sight may well change things soon, but for now, a final at the Crucible remains the pinnacle. The prize so many dream of winning. The stage so many want to grace. The jaws that can so easily chew players up and spit them back out.

Nervousness is, many would argue, an entirely reasonable default setting.

"When you're up there you don't really think anything of it," says Jones, whose apparent nonchalance betrays such a narrative.

"You're just trying to win matches. I didn't really feel like I was playing in a World Championship final or anything like that. I felt quite comfortable and quite good up there. So I think looking back, I'm disappointed with the way the final went. I thought I could have won it really. But Kyren (Wilson) played well as well. So it wasn't an easy game."

Jones may well have slipped to an 18-14 defeat at the hands of Kyren Wilson, but his rise has nevertheless become one of the snooker's big talking points. And yet, there's a chance none of this would have happened were it not for a sliding doors moment some 20 years ago.

"It was in Corfu in Greece," he remembers. "I was on holiday with my family and brother was working as an entertainer at a resort. We went to visit and it just so happened that Darren Morgan and his family were there on the same resort.

Jak Jones of Wales reacts during a press conference
Jak Jones isn't afraid to ruffle a few feathers -Credit:2024 Getty Images

"I was playing pool with all the other men there. I was only about 10 years old. I won a couple of games and then he noticed me. We then realised I was from Cwmbran and he was from Cross Keys and it went from there.

"When we came back from holiday, my parents took me to his junior club to play on a Saturday and I just loved playing.

"I'd never even touched a pool cue or a snooker cue in my life before that. I remember I used to watch it on the TV and as a kid I did like seeing it. So when I saw the pool table in Corfu, I decided to play and it was lucky Darren was there."

Jones, who now plays out of Redz club in Cwmbran, returned to Wales to work with Morgan, a former Crucible semi-finalist, eventually turning pro at the age of 16 shortly after winning the Under-19s European Championship in Malta.

It was an impressive rise, and his promising progress came against the backdrop of a school life that was anything but ordinary.

"I had severe asthma and I was forced to leave school when I was about 12," he explains. "I had home tutoring every single day because of it and because I was spending so much time in hospital as I was having regular asthma attacks.

"It's never good to have asthma, but it kind of worked in my favour in a way. I was forced to leave school and I was basically living in hospital with my asthma from the age of about 13.

"I was doing home tutoring and I wasn't doing the same hours as I would have been in school. I was doing two to three hours every single morning from 8am to 10 or 11am in the morning with a personal tutor, which was probably better for me schooling-wise and also enabled me to go to Darren Morgan's club and practice every day.

"It kind of just all came together."

Jak Jones at Redz club in Cwmbran -Credit:Rob Browne
Jak Jones at Redz club in Cwmbran -Credit:Rob Browne

One can't help but wonder if that formative experience of smashing balls around for fun in a Greek holiday resort has perhaps shaped the way he plays now - and helped build up a noticeable immunity to the weight of such an intense spotlight.

When BBC announcer Rob Walker suggested he was "under pressure" heading into the evening session of the final, Jones was visibly unimpressed, shaking his head wearing the sort of grimace one makes when they smell a particularly rancid fart.

In Walker's defence, Jones was 7-1 down at the time, staring down the barrel of a comprehensive defeat, but the Welshman clearly felt it was an unnecessary jab that missed the mark.

"It was a joke reaction," he admits. "But they do say some things don't they! I'm not quite sure why they get involved in the match itself in terms of the introductions.

"I don't think they should be getting involved in the match itself while introducing players. You should just be introducing the players. He doesn't know if I'm under pressure or not under pressure.

"Nobody knows how I feel. So it's a bit of a strange one to introduce me as being under pressure without knowing exactly how I feel. I could have felt amazing.

"I think I've learned I don't have to play my best to beat the top players. I think that's probably one of the main things I've learned. I basically played my B and C game through the whole tournament. The longer formats help me. They benefit me. So the fact I didn't play that well really for myself but still managed to be four frames away from winning the World Championship - that gives me a lot of belief. I now realise that I don't have to play well all the time to beat the top players. I think I've got a good tactical game, which a lot of players don't like."

Jones and Wilson are going head-to-head in the final
Jones and Wilson went head-to-head in a gripping final -Credit:PA

Having claimed the notable scalps of Judd Trump and Stuart Bingham on his way to the final, Jones has relished his newfound status as a difficult, almost irritating, upstart, muscling his way through snooker's elite.

Both Trump and Bingham both complained his alleged slow-paced safety-heavy style were behind their respective defeats, accusing Jones of throwing them off their game. Jones branded their grumbling as 'pathetic' at the time and, with the dust now settled, remains defiantly unapologetic.

"A lot of players don't take losing very well," he added. "Especially top players. They think they have a given right to win matches. They're quite spoilt. Pampered in a lot of ways because they get special treatment.

"When they see someone low down the rankings coming up and giving them a difficult time, it's harder for them to take it.

"The comments a couple of players made in particular during the Crucible after losing to me, were basically just excuses. I don't mind saying they were excuses because I can analyse a match quite well.

Jones was just 16 when he won the European Under-19s Championship in Malta in 2010 -Credit:Jak Jones
Jones was just 16 when he won the European Under-19s Championship in Malta in 2010 -Credit:Jak Jones

"I used to be quite a slow player. I'm not the fastest player anyway, but because I used to be quite slow they seem to think they can use it as an excuse. Even when the evidence doesn't back it up. When I played Judd, he hit a century in his first frame.

"Then in all of his interviews he was saying how well he was playing. But then I pinched the frame to go 1-1, then I went 3-1 up and I just noticed how he changed as a player. He just suddenly became a player with no confidence. He didn't look like he fancied anything. He took ages on shots. That was something he was doing. It was nothing to do with me. Me playing a good three frames maybe put him under pressure. Then my safety and tactical play just kept me in control in those matches against him and Bingham.

"So I think it's an excuse for them to say they struggled with the pace of the game or whatever when they played at exactly the same pace as me. At times they were the ones that decided to play the way they were playing.

"I don't mind it. It doesn't bother me what they say. If it bothers them that much then it's all good for me because that's what you're trying to do. You're trying to take away their rhythm. That's the whole point of it. So it was good news hearing that for me."

Fans on social media have sometimes been just as stinging, but not all of his peers have reacted so negatively.

Former world champion Neil Robertson was one of those to come to his defence, calling Jones one of “the top five safety players in the world,” adding that it's "not his fault that he knocks other players out of their rhythm”.

Jones admits he's thankful for any kind messages, but it feels like there's a part of him that quite enjoys ruffling the feathers of the established order.

Not that he seems to deliberately sets out to rub people up the wrong way, mind. But it does feel like a sign he's doing something right.

Should he continue his assault on snooker's established order, he might just have to get used to a bit more grumbling.