The Malta Independent 8 December 2021, Wednesday

The Story of Alex Borg

Malta Independent Tuesday, 16 August 2005, 00:00 Last update: about 9 years ago

ALEX BORG has become a big name in local snooker circles over the last few years. He is now 36 years old, and apart from tasting success in Malta, he has also done well in some tournaments abroad, especially last June, when he triumphed in Poland to win the European Championship. It was in the early 1880s that he really started taking the game seriously, although he was still very young. Henry Brincat still remembers the day he was drawn to play against Alex in the same group in the Maltese Second Division. It was a close match and Alex won by a narrow margin, both in Mellieha and in Valletta, but that day, Henry noticed that this youngster had skill, although he had no way of knowing then that he would eventually become such a top sporting personality in the snooker field, both at home and abroad. Here he tells Henry his story

Since he was eight years old, Alex Borg had showed an interest in the game of snooker, even if he had to start his playing career on a boys table at the Parish Centre in Mellieha.

He said he used to play alone most of the time and his mother, MaryAnne, was always chasing him home to do his homework as a youngster.

He was always drawn to the game and did not find it difficult to start playing on a full-size table at the Imperial Band Club, also in Mellieha, his place of birth.

But it was in 1982, when he was 13, that he really got the chance to improve his already abundant skills. Michael Buttigieg, president of the Malta Labour Party Club in Mellieha offered him the opportunity of going to his club and training there for free for an unlimited number of hours.

He said: “I appreciate what Michael did for me up to today. He gave me the chance and I took the opportunity, as I began playing there for hour after hour. I also started representing the club in the association’s competitions, before deciding to turn pro in 1991. That meant I could not play in domestic competitions, until the rules were changed in 1996, when I again became eligible to play in Malta.”

When he started playing at the Imperial Band Club, his first aim was to win the club trophy. “The first time I ever took part, I finished second and I was presented with a small trophy as the finalist, something which I still cherish today, as it was my first ever trophy. In 1984, I won the competition and from then on, I never looked back. My next aim was to get to the top and also represent the country in some tournaments abroad,” he added.

Borg made his mark quickly in local snooker. “I was promoted to the first division in the 1986/87 season, and I reached the final that year, although I lost to Guzi Grech 8-3. Guzi later went on to lose the world amateur title to Darren Morgan of Wales in the final. Yet, before that, Carm Zerafa of London had also given me the opportunity to join Tony Drago and Guzi Grech and take part in some pro-am tournaments in England, and there I started gaining valuable experience. On one occasion I also reached the semi-final, where I lost to Joe O’Boye who was then ranked 35th in the world.

“In 1987, I represented Malta at a world championship for the first time, in India. I finished fourth in the group, and was eliminated, but it was another useful experience, having also been the youngest player in the tournament,” he added.

He made a big hit in Malta in 1990 when he won the Rothmans Pro-Am tournament after beating Tony Drago 8-4 in the final. “Tony had just lost in the final of the MITA World Masters that year, so you can imagine what I felt after managing to beat him. But he had his revenge the following year, as he beat me 7-6 to clinch the title,” he added.

That year, in 1991, Alex decided to join the professional field as the doors were open to everyone. “But it was difficult for me. It meant I had to take part in all the qualifying rounds of the ranking tournaments in Blackpool, England – a period of six or even seven weeks away from home. Moreover, you had to win over 11 rounds to get to the top 64 of an event.

“I reached the last 32 stage in two grand prix, but lost to Jimmy White and Dave Harold 5-0 on both occasions. The pro system was changed again by the WPBSA in 1997 and there are now only 128 players eligible to take part in the ranking tournaments,” he said.

He added: “In 1996 a change in the local rules made me available once again locally, and I reached the final of the Malta Champion-ship, where I lost to Paul Mifsud 8-4. Then in 1998, I won the title against Guzi Grech, clinching a close 8-7 victory. The year before, he had beaten me by the same score. I have been Malta champion for the last three years now, but these last few years have been very eventful.

“In 1997, I formed part of the Malta team, with Paul Mifsud and Guzi Grech, which won the Inter-continental Cup in Malta. We repeated the feat in 1999 in Grenoble, France and again the following year in Gibraltar. In 1988, I also reached the final of the European Championship, where I lost to Helgason of Iceland in Helsinki. That year, I was also voted Sportsman of the Year. In 2004, I also reached the final of the European Championship in Austria where I lost to Mark Allen of Northern Ireland 7-6 (black to win),” he said.

And he added: “In 2003, I joined the Euro Tour and was back as a professional. I managed to win four tournaments in Europe, getting into the top 12 of this Tour. I reached the final stages in Germany and I was 108 in the world, my best ever ranking. Having won the European Championship this year in Poland against the same Helgason, I am now back among the professionals on the Main Tour.

“Last year, I helped the Malta team – with Simon Zammit, Duncan Bezzina and Guzi Grech – to win the European team championship in Latvia and this year in Malta, we did it again, winning the Mediterranean Cup in Malta,” he said.

Asked what he considers to be his most successful moments in the professional world, Borg said one great moment was when he managed to beat John Higgins (he was then world No. 1 and world champion) 5-2 in a 1998 match. “I also had a great match against Stephen Hendry that year, although I ended losing 6-2. Another good win was the one I registered against then world No. 3 Mark Williams. I beat him 5-3, but went on to lose in the semi-final against John Higgins. In 1995, I also beat Nigel Bond (No. 5) 5-4, but then lost the semi-final to Darren Morgan.”

I asked Alex whether he had any idols to follow when he was young. “Steve Davis was my great favourite in the early days. He dominated the scene for a long time, before Stephen Hendry took over and the Scot then became my idol. They are both snooker geniuses – they were good all round. Moreover, they were and still are a perfect example of true professionals. Locally, I have always admired Tony Drago, Paul Mifsud and Guzi Grech. I owe a lot to all three of them as I have learnt a lot from them all,” he said.

At present, Alex is also helping the Polish Association to coach some of their players in preparation for some tournaments ahead – they have eight men, four women and two seniors. “This is a new field which I am taking seriously. I am hoping to do a course in England soon, probably while I am training in preparation for the forthcoming season, which starts next month. I will be training at Birmingham’s Snooker Academy alongside Tony Drago and such players as Peter Ebdon, Ken Doherty and Ding Junhui,” he said.

His first Main Tour event will be the Grand Prix and he will be taking part in the qualifiers at Prestatyn, Wales. “I could be drawn to meet 36th ranked Tony Drago in the third round (last 64) if I am successful in the opening two rounds,” said Borg.

Finally, Alex paid tribute to his late father Joseph, saying it was he who had pushed him all the way, with his encouragement and continuous support. “Until his recent death, he always used to follow me, sometimes even abroad. I also want to thank my mother, MaryAnne, as well as Michael Buttigieg, Joe Debono, also of the MLP Club, Mellieha, and my employers Maltacom. They all have given me their full support throughout my career,” he said.

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