Luca Brecel finds winning formula to become party-loving champion of the world

Luca Brecel celebrates the biggest moment of his career on Monday night
Luca Brecel celebrates the biggest moment of his career on Monday night

WHEN Luca Brecel burst onto the Crucible stage as a history-making 17-year-old in 2012 he was still putting in arduous hours on the practice table and had never taken so much as a sip of beer.

"I really don't know what it tastes like," Brecel told the Belgian website Humo as he prepared to become the youngest ever player in the first round of the tournament. "It doesn't really interest me that much."

Fast forward 13 years and the angel-faced teen who also admitted he had no time for chasing girls is a beer-swilling, party-loving champion of the world, having fended off Mark Selby to claim the crown in thrilling style in Sheffield on Monday.

Victory capped a remarkable, and some would say belated, journey to the sport's summit for Brecel, whose momentum from an astounding junior career had threatened to stall upon his arrival in the professional ranks.

Brecel first clasped a cue during a family holiday in Italy at the age of nine, and upon returning to the family home in Maasmechelen he and his father sought out their closest club to nurture his early enthusiasm.

His interest in the sport sky-rocketed the following year when Brecel switched on his TV to get a taste of World Championship action for the first time - and in the very first frame he watched, Mark Williams proceeded to rifle in a 147 in his 10-1 drubbing of Robert Milkins.

"I thought I would never be able to do that," recalled Brecel, who actually went on to do just that in a tournament in Belgium two years later, by which time his parents had taken note of his talent and knocked down a wall in order to install a full-size table in their family home.

"From then on he really started training like a man possessed - sometimes up to 15 hours a day on weekends," his dad Carlo told Humo.

Plaudits and titles were not long in coming. Brecel beat Stephen Hendry in an exhibition in 2010, the same year in which he became Belgian senior champion for the first time at the age of just 15.

He received a wild card for the main tour in 2011, arrowing his way straight into the top 100, and the following year he fought through four qualifying rounds to become the youngest ever Crucible qualifier, acquitting himself well in a 10-5 first-round defeat to Stephen Maguire.

Despite reaching the last eight of the UK Championship the following year, however, Brecel's early momentum began to stall. He floated on the periphery of the big time and it was not until he triumphed at the China Championship in Guangzhou in 2017 that he finally got his hands on some silverware.

He was having no luck at the Crucible, where four subsequent visits following his debut would yield four straight losses, and only a stirring end to his 2021 campaign, when he followed up a final appearance at the UK Championship with his second ranking title at the Scottish Open, reignited that flicker of promise.

Brecel - resplendent in knuckle tattoos reading "free bird" and "La Vida Loca" - arrived for his sixth crack at the Crucible truly off the radar - and resolutely off the practice table.

"I haven't really practised for this tournament," Brecel insisted after a thoroughly underwhelming 10-9 first-round win over Ricky Walden.

"I think I've maybe had only 15 minutes of practice in three weeks. Many people ask me why - I don't know. I'm at home. I've got a good life. I do so many things in my life that I almost forget to play snooker."

From 15-hour sessions to 15-minute fleeting visits, from soft drinks to boozy late-night sessions, Brecel has tried it all. On Monday night at the Crucible he finally alighted on a winning formula that carried him over the line and towards a lucrative and party-loving future.