STEPHEN MAGUIRE admits he is still trying to get the right balance between match-play and practice as he bids to overcome a relatively slow start to the 2013-14 campaign and get back in the winner’s circle.

One major spin-off of a transformed playing schedule in recent years has been the need for professionals to plot a path through a congested calendar in such a way as to maintain their best form.

Prior to all the new events players practised for hours, days and weeks at a time either on their own or with a variety of sparring partners. The advent of in particular the lower-profile Players Tour Championship events has seen these often being utilised to fine-tune a player’s game.

But Scot Maguire, 32, while admitting this was a path he followed for some time, came to believe he was missing something, and that there were aspects of honing his game that the world no.5 was neglecting by abandoning additional practice time.

Former UK champion and winner of five ranking events in all including last season’s Welsh Open, Maguire told Inside Snooker: “Things have been quiet, I haven’t done much and been getting too far in the ranking events. The UK was a bit better. 

“There have been flashes of the sort of form I was showing last season in the Welsh Open, but that isn’t good enough. I can’t put my finger on it.

“I have been practising more between events so we’ll see if that makes a difference over the next couple of months. For the last two years with all the tournaments I haven’t been practising that much, and just using the matches as practice at the lesser events. We are playing a hell of a lot.

“But what you miss out on is the fine-tuning on bits of your game you need to work on in practice. At the back of my mind I hadn’t been putting the work in.

“I had been relying on match practice and not practising will catch you out, and it probably has. You need to refresh every now and again.

“It’s probably a bit like the footballers playing Saturday, Tuesday Saturday but spending time on getting set pieces right and that sort of thing. That’s what I have been doing the past fortnight.

“It has been back to basics, long balls, situations you know are going to crop up. It’s a case of knuckling down.

“I did take time off at the start of the season. I don’t regret that, missing some tournaments, I really needed it even though it probably contributed towards a slow start.

“We started just three weeks after the Crucible, and following that world championship first round defeat I didn’t want to look at a snooker table. I had to spend some time at the house and with my family.”

Maguire opens up his campaign for a first Dafabet Masters title and the £200,000 first prize against Joe Perry on Monday 13th January at 7pm at Alexandra Palace.

And he goes into the tournament suspecting that despite already grabbing a hat-trick of major titles this season, world no.3 Ding Junhui may not be done just yet in terms of silverware this term.

Maguire added: “Winning the three ranking titles back to back isn’t something you see very often and I just like watching Ding play snooker. He plays the game in the right way, the way it should be played.

“I am actually surprised he didn’t do it a couple of years ago as he has always been good enough. You can see the difference in him at tournaments. He just looks so relaxed, a marked difference in him around the venues. It is almost like he is finally comfortable now with everything, his talent and his fame in China.

“He just seems finally at ease with himself, and winning the titles he is only going to get better and stronger and win more in my opinion. Being in a good frame of mind is crucial, that’s how he looks and I don’t think he’s finished this season yet either.

“There are many tournaments left and I am pretty sure he will get his hands on another trophy before the World Championship.”

Photographs by Monique Limbos.