Earlier this year, Ukraine’s Iulian Boiko narrowly missed out on becoming snooker’s youngest ever professional player when he lost in the final of the 2020 World Snooker Federation Open.
The 14-year-old – who would have been the first from his country to reach the sport’s top tier – went on a memorable run in Malta during January. The most lucrative amateur snooker event in the world, Boiko eliminated significant opponents such as Sean O’Sullivan and Ross Muir on his way to making the title match, before only being denied by the in-form Ashley Hugill 5-3.
Following an invitation to the Snooker Shoot Out, Boiko built upon his success when he won the recent EBSA European 6-Red Championship in Portugal; the first Ukrainian born cueist to claim a European title. He defeated former world number eight Darren Morgan 5-3 in the final and will be the continent’s nomination for this year’s SangSom 6-Red World Championship.
Boiko’s rise through the ranks corresponds with snooker’s increasing popularity in Ukraine and much of eastern Europe as a whole.
Iulian’s father, Serhii Boiko, is one of those who created and oversees the Ukrainian Snooker Federation – the country’s national association. Serhii spoke with us, discussing what has been achieved there so far and their hopes for the future.
Can you tell us how the snooker association in Ukraine was formed?
Our federation was founded in December 2013. It was organised by Iulian’s practice partner Sergey Isaienko, Iulian’s first coach Piotr Chirkin and me.
How popular is snooker in Ukraine and what coverage does it receive? Are there many snooker clubs and tables in the country?
Snooker’s popularity has increased in the last two years as we have started broadcasting snooker on TV here. It is very popular for spectators as many are watching it on Eurosport, although we would still like more people to play it.
There are around 10 snooker centres in Ukraine. In Kyiv we have 20 snooker tables in 5 clubs, in Lviv there are 12 tables, up to 15 tables in our federation’s snooker academies in Kropyvnytskyi region and up to 20 tables in other regions.
What competitions do you hold in Ukraine, both for nationals and players from abroad?
We hold regional, national and international events.
There are about 150-200 regional tournaments every year which include under-16, under-21, women and senior categories. We also hold up to 10 national tournaments for all categories.
Every year we host an Independence Day Cup in August which is also open to international players. In 2019 we had entries from 16 different countries take part and three professionals – Michael Georgiou, Craig Steadman and Jamie O’Neill. The tournament had prize money of €6,000 and was held in perfect conditions with brand new cloth on each table. We had eight live streaming cameras and television coverage for the final stages.
Do you have qualified referees and coaches in Ukraine?
We have experienced coaches and during the recent European Snooker Championships in Portugal, Andrey Makkeiev and I became certified EBSA and WPBSA coaches. Ukraine has four certified referees.
What are the federation’s short and long-term goals for snooker in Ukraine?
We have several plans and aspirations for the future. We have created an under-16 snooker academy that has 100 students and one of our goals is to increase that number of players and quality of their game. We are now developing women’s snooker too and already we have 20 girls practising.
Support will continue for our best players – seven-time national champion Sergey Isaienko and Iulian. We aim for them to participate in most of the amateur and semi-professional competitions with a goal of reaching the main tour.
The federation also hopes to hold a Challenge Tour event and we have created all the conditions for this.
Ashley Hugill has defeated Iulian Boiko 5-3 to win the World Snooker Federation Open title in Malta this evening.
The victory sees the 25-year-old succeed Luo Honghao as champion and will also see him earn a two-year tour ticket to the World Snooker Tour from the start of the 2020/21 season.
Hugill was previously on the professional circuit from 2017-19, reaching the last 16 of the Scottish Open and is currently second on the Challenge Tour ranking list having won Event Four in Bruges last season.
The Englishman emerged from a difficult round-robin group which included Junior Open finalist Sean Maddocks and fellow former professional Chris Totten, before winning five knockout matches to progress to the final.
Awaiting him was Iulian Boiko from Ukraine, who at just 14-years-old had lit up the tournament by taking the scalps of players including Sean O’Sullivan and Ross Muir, both among those favoured to take the title.
It was Hugill who would assert himself upon the final in its opening stages, a clearance of 113 and a further run of 56 enough to give him a 2-0 lead in their best of nine frames final.
The attacking Boiko – who earlier in the tournament had dispatched Sean O’Sullivan 3-0 in under 27 minutes with an average shot time of just 13.58 seconds – responded in style by taking three frames in a row, a break of 62 enough to put him into the lead for the first time at 3-2.
It was Hugill’s turn to raise him game however as he countered with breaks of 65, 50 and finally 89 to claim his own hat-trick of frames and seal a 5-3 victory.
“It is an incredible feeling to claim this title,” said Hugill who hails from York. “The thing that made it better was my family being here. It would have been the best day of my career if they weren’t here and to have them here to see it was perfect.
“I felt really calm all the way throughout the tournament. I was most nervous in the quarter-finals against Allan Taylor but I was just in the zone tonight. I felt great, even at 3-2 down I hadn’t made that many mistakes. I just couldn’t get in around the black spot during those frames.
Having left as the last man standing from a high-quality field of over 150 players, Hugill added that he had arrived at the event with confidence and now feels that he is well-placed to return to the professional circuit as a better player.
“I came here both expecting to win and I was hoping to win,” said Hugill. “You don’t come here to lose in the final and after I beat Kuldesh [Johal] in the first knockout round I hardly missed a ball and I knew I was in a good place to win it.
“It was awful not getting through Q School. I had a tough second year on the tour especially and I went into Q School with low confidence and I was devastated to be off the tour. What turned it around was my maximum break at Challenge Tour in Leeds. That gave me the confidence and the belief that I was good enough to earn a living at this game.
“Without a doubt I am better equipped for the main tour now. I have learned a lot more about the mental side of the game, controlling my mind and thinking clearly under pressure. That’s almost more important than your cue action.”
Hugill also had words of praise for his opponent, who despite defeat leaves with a number of new fans around the globe who have followed his progress during the event, as well as the event as a whole.
“He is an incredible talent,” added Hugill. “When his game develops further in respect of shot selection and safety, he can go as far as he wants in the sport and I told him that after the match.
“This has been a superb venue including the TV table and facilities at the Academy where we have also played are fantastic. I am sure that Malta will see some great young players coming through the ranks with those facilities.”
Full information about the WSF Open including results and standings can be accessed HERE.