Teenager Ben Mertens is looking impressive on his first season on the professional tour, thanks partly to some kind words from Ronnie O’Sullivan and despite a tremor he has suffered since taking the Covid vaccine.
The 18-year-old beat Ricky Walden 4-1 in the opening round of the WST Classic on Thursday, which follows on from a great run to the last 16 of the Welsh Open last month.
It was a difficult start to his first campaign as a professional, but a meeting with Ronnie O’Sullivan at the English Open in December helped turn things around.
He lost 4-3 to the Rocket, but pushing the world champion all the way and some kind words from him afterwards gave the Belgian the boost he needed.
‘I’ve been having a good second half of the season,’ Mertens told Metro.co.uk after beating Walden in Leicester. ‘I was really struggling before that game, I wasn’t able to settle in the matches on tour. It was a hard time.
‘But then the match against Ronnie gave me a big boost and a lot of confidence. Since then I’m a different player.’
On what Ronnie said to him after, Ben added: ‘Not advice but he said some very nice words and also in his interviews afterwards said some good things about me.
‘If Ronnie says things like that, it gives you a massive boost.’
O’Sullivan was indeed complimentary after that game, telling Eurosport: ‘He is a great cueist, hits the ball well.
‘I like his game. He is only young and he is going to be around. The sky is the limit for him really.’
One noticeable part of Mertens’ game since he has been on tour has been an obvious shake at times when he is down on the shot. It looked like it may have been nerves for the rookie, but he is actually suffering with a tremor which has come about since receiving the Covid vaccine.
It is a problem that fellow pro Scott Donaldson struggled with and has overcome, but Mertens is still suffering in his head, while a tremor in his arm has subsided.
‘It started when I took my vaccine. I spoke with Scott Donaldson, he had it as well after his vaccine,’ said Mertens. ‘We’ve tried some doctors but it was not helping. Now we are seeing a specialist in these kind of things, there is a little bit of improvement already.
‘It’s mentally quite tough because I can’t break it. When I’m settled it goes away a little bit, it’s okay, but it gets worse with nerves.
‘It doesn’t really affect my game but I want it to go away, of course, but I have to be patient.
‘Scott’s just went, he said it can take a while. I think it’s going to go away in time.
‘It was my left arm, that’s stopped, but it’s still in my head a little bit. It was my head and my arm, but my arm is okay now and my head is getting better, so I think it’s going to be fine.’
Mertens is certainly managing to play great stuff despite the tremor and he is feeling better and better about not just surviving but thriving on the pro tour.
He joined the tour this season with compatriot Julien Leclercq, with the 20-year-old also impressing at times in his first year as a pro.
‘He’s my best mate,’ said Mertens. ‘We’ve been playing together and against each other since we were 8 years old, it’s a dream that we are both on the tour, it’s very nice.’
Mertens has another impressive youngster in Pang Junxu in the last 64 at the WST Classic, and after this event attention will turn to the World Championship qualifiers.
On the prospect of getting to the Crucible he said: ‘It would mean a lot, it’s my dream since I started playing to play at the Crucible one day.
‘I have the confidence and I think I have the game to do it as well.’
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