After 18 years as a professional, Robert Milkins has joined the elite top 16 for the first time.
Just four years ago, Milkins was in freefall, ranked 55th in the world and in a bad place both personally and professionally.
With the help of friends he turned his life and career around. After beating Neil Robertson at the Crucible he said: “I’m happy with life. I’ve got two young kids, a lovely missus, good friends behind me, a good manager and a good coach. I don’t need much else.
“Before I had nothing – nothing at all. I was in a flat, just going out drinking every day; then I got evicted and I was 20 to 30 grand in debt. I was just going down the gutter and I was lucky that some friends of mine came along.
“They’d taken me in 15 years previously when my mum died as well, so they came back into my life and helped me out. I’d lost my mum, I’d lost my dad, I got divorced. It just blew me apart. Now It’s all turned round and I’m chuffed to bits that it has.”
Milkins has continued to make progress this season, reaching the semi-finals of the Wuxi Classic and Australian Open.
Another person who has helped him is Terry Griffiths, director of coaching at the South West Snooker Academy in Milkins’s home city of Gloucester.
The old saying is that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Actually you can teach anyone anything – as long as they want to learn.
Milkins was always a great talent. I remember Ronnie O’Sullivan once saying he loved the way he bounced round the table, believing he had a right to be there. However, as he has acknowledged, his attitude sometimes let him down.
He came close to playing O’Sullivan in the 2005 Irish Masters final when he led Matthew Stevens 8-5 in the semis. Stevens then potted the ball of the week – a great green – and came back to win 9-8.
The years that followed saw a decline. Now comes the rise.
Paul Mount and the SWSA have clearly helped give Milkins some stability and he is now playing measured, solid, good snooker. What was noticeable against Robertson at the World Championship was how disciplined he was throughout.
It’s all come from the only thing that ever provides sporting success: hard work.
Yesterday Sir Nick Faldo, a six times major winner at golf, gave a misfiring Rory McIlroy some free advice.
It seems obvious enough: practice really hard and treat your profession as just that – a profession not a hobby. But in sport there are many distractions and it's easy to take things for granted.
Milkins, at 37, may have left it late but not too late. In snooker, longevity is more possible than in physical sports.
He said yesterday: “I’ve got to make sure I keep my place. I want to get into the Masters and of course at the end of the season to be seeded through to the Crucible.”
Such talk would have seemed wildly deluded just a couple of years ago but Milkins has made it a reality.
Out of the snooker darkness has come light, which serves as hope for any player in a similar position that there is always a way back - if you’re prepared to work for it.