The Snooker Balkaniada: Serbia on snooker's map

12:33:00 Ramona Dragomir 0 Comments

For the past couple of years we've been seeing how snooker is becoming more and more popular and loved on the European continent. 

Thanks to the Players Tour Championship series we have been travelling from the hungry-for-snooker Germany to a very cosy and traditional Poland, from the dreamy Czech Republic to magical Belgium, but not forgetting to pay a visit to a dear friend that lives right next door - Ireland.

However, snooker is blooming not just in these countries, but also in one that many of us maybe overlooked to search for on the map: Serbia. In the beautiful capital Belgrade, in 2011, the Serbian Snooker Association was born at the initiative of Marko Vukovic (who's also the president and a certified IBSF coach) and his " snooker enthusiastic friends", as he likes to call them.

The start was a modest one, with a mini-private event and only nine participants, but this year the organization team has already put together a brand new snooker calendar that contains a series of no less than nine tournaments.

Thinking also about the amateur players, this spring the inaugural edition of "Belgrade Snooker Open" is taking plave from 13-15 of April, the event being opened not just for Serbian players, but also for any other of the green baize gladiators who will want to cross their cue in a "snooker inter-cultural exchange".

Starting from scratch

Marko Vukovic in action
When you hear the President Marko Vukovic talking about snooker and his passion for the game, it almost seems hard to believe that their National Association only has a year of activity. And still, they've achieved so much.

"The Serbian Snooker Association (SSA) was founded in November 2011, by me and a couple of my friends also snooker enthusiasts. We are a Billiards Federation of Serbia's (BSF) branch but we cover strictly snooker, as this is the only way we can get any success in making snooker more popular across our country. We have a contract with the BSF stating that we have our own money, sponsors etc. Basically full independence." says a very proud Marko who was also the initiator of the first mini-snooker-event in the country.

With their first snooker club being opened in November 2011, things couldn't go any better, so "without any support for the BSF", Marko and his team put together a private league of snooker that only had nine participants, but lasted for about four months. The ice was being broken.

This year things are getting serious though and the snooker calendar is going to see no less than nine ranking tournaments, at the end of them, Serbia making known to the entire planet its first national champion.
The Snooker League trophies

"Called "Serbian Masters" the series consists in eight qualifying events and one big tournament at the end of the year for the top 16 players. We have a nice prize money fund for this series of events.

"Our first tournament is going to be held from 25- 26 of February, and we already have over 30 players registered for it, which is far more that what we expected for the first official tournament in the history of Serbian snooker.", says Marko.

But the SSA takes interest in making the sport more inviting also by having a couple of open days each month, people from all around the capital or the near cities being able to attend coaching classes and ask questions about the sport.

Marko admits that “it is very nice to see that I have around 20 players on each of these open-day-events. Snooker is also getting quite popular with kids, and I’ve already seen several talented ones, so I am hoping that they are going to practice hard and become pros one day.”

The Belgrade Snooker Open

We all know that in order to become a professional snooker player one needs commitment, dedication, a lot of practice and most importantly a chance “to put on the table” what you’ve learnt.

This new event that the SSA is preparing this spring it certainly represents a huge chance for those who are talented and want to know what a real competition is all about.

Opened only for amateur players, the “Belgrade Snooker Open” is being held between 13 and 15 of April in hope of bringing together ambitious, talented and eager-to compete-snooker-performers from all corners of the planet, at the same time the Serbian audience being able to witness a live demonstration of inter-cultural snooker.

The idea of organising such an event occurred to Marko a couple of years ago, but now felt like the perfect moment to turn it into a reality, with the Association having already experienced a previous tournament and with a team of “positive and willing to work” people, as Marko Vukovic says.

“There are still many things to be organized but as I said we have a very capable group of people, we’ve received full support from everyone involved and with our positive attitude and great atmosphere, it’s not hard.

Where the Belgrade Snooker Open will take place
“It is actually enjoyable knowing that we are doing something that will be very important for Serbian snooker and a huge milestone to achieve after only a couple of months work. We are still seeking for sponsors and we are expecting to find someone in couple of week’s time, hopefully.

“Though we are aware that it is going to be a very demanding week with a lot of challenges, we are sure that we shall pass all the tests with flying colours.”, added the SSA president.

As for the tournament’s structure, fee payment and other important details Marko says:

“The tournament is limited to 128 players. They are going to be divided in groups of four players, the matches being played under the “best of 3” rule. At the end the first two players of each are going through the knockout stage.

“Closing date for participants is April 1st at the moment, but we have decided to allow players to pay the entry fee (€ 4o) once they get in Belgrade, if they are not comfortable with sending the money by bank transfer.

“We are also going to present the players with accommodation choices at lower rates, and take care of the transportation from the airport to where they are staying and from there to where the club is situated, if necessary. We really want our guest to feel comfortable in our country.“

Aiming for the TOP

Marko playing at the EPTC 6 Event in 2010
To paraphrase Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” - “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a snooker player in possession of talent and ambition must be in want of playing on the Main Tour.” Nothing new under the sun there, but how to get a place for the dreamy Main Tour, now that’s a serious task for a player.

Marko Vukovic is no stranger for trying his luck with the Players Tour Championship series. Last season he even took part in one of the European events (EPTC 6) and faced the Englishman Mike Dunn.

However, snooker is a pricy sport that requires besides passion and hard work a lot of money. Still, Marko sees snooker heading towards the right direction and he’s very hopeful to see Serbian players taking part in the future PTC events.

With the provisional ranking including names like: Vladan Niskic, Sasa Stojanovic, Dragan Glisovic, Aleksandar Kuzmancevic and Marko Stoilkovic (not to mention the president himself), the future of Serbian’s snooker is looking pretty good.

“I am really delighted with the way snooker is evolving; I think that in couple of years time snooker will get very popular around the world, as it is fascinating game. I would love to see tournaments played each week, and also it would be great if the Main Tour could become opened for anyone in the coming years.

“I played in one of last years PTC’s events and I must say it was an amazing experience. I will be going again to PTC in the coming years, and I can say for sure that the number of Serbian players entering those tournaments will rise.

As for the future, Serbians are in for quite a snooker treat the SSA having some very interesting projects to put into action, according to their restless president:

“The Associations is doing its best for players to play in as many snooker events as possible, like the PTCs, IBSF and EBSA ones.

“There is a hope that we will get sponsors, which would help us to send our players around the world, and also to put the basis of a Serbian Snooker academy. We have huge plans (including snooker summer camp in August for players from around the world), and I will do my best to make them happen.”

For more information about the Belgrade Snooker Open and how you can get your place booked visit the official SSA web-site.

 Note: All photos are courtesy of SSA President Marko Vukovic.