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Tony Drago

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Tony Drago
Tony Drago
Drago at the Swiss Open 2005
Birthday 22. September 1965 (55 years)
Birthplace Valletta
Nationality MaltaMalta Malta
Nickname(s) The Tornado[1]
The Maltese Falcon[2]
The Boss[3]
Pro 1985–2008, 2009–2016
Prize money 1.£127,868 (snooker)[4][
] $243,154 (Pool)[5]
Highest break 147 (Benson and Hedges Championship 2002)[4]
Century Breaks 128[4]
Main Tour Successes
Minor Tournament Wins 1 (Strachan Challenge 1993/3)[4]
World Rankings
Highest WRL Rank 10 (1998/99 season)[6]
Best results
Ranking Tournaments 1× final (International Open 1997)[4]
Other professional tournaments 2× winner (Strachan Challenge 1993/3, Guangzhou Masters 1996)[4]
Amateur Tournaments 1× Maltese Champion (1984)[4]

Tony Drago (born 22 September 1965 in Valletta) is a former Maltese snooker and pool player. He was a professional player on the snooker Main Tour from 1985 to 2016 with one interruption for a total of 30 seasons. During this time, he won an event in the 1993 Strachan Challenge and the 1996 Guangzhou Masters, and reached the final of the 1997 International Open and 10th in the world snooker rankings, among others. In pool billiards he won among others the World Pool Masters 2003 and the French Open 2008 and was vice European Champion 2007 in 8-Ball.

Early on the very fast playing Drago was considered a great talent but especially his lack of nerves and his quick temper prevented Drago from becoming one of the world’s best snooker players. Despite this, he spent almost two decades in the extended world elite. Beginning in the mid-1980s, Drago didn’t slip out of it until the second half of the 2000s and even lost his professional status in 2008 for underperforming. During this time, he was particularly successful in pool. Though he managed after one year to re-qualify for the snooker tour the following years were a constant fight to keep his professional status. In 2016 he lost it for good. After returning to his home country Malta and health problems Drago now plays snooker in amateur and especially in senior tournaments.

Career

Drago was born in 1965 in the Maltese capital Valletta.[7] His grandfather originally came from Italy.[8] Already as a small child he discovered the sport of billiards and was encouraged by his mother to practice it actively on a high level. For training Drago regularly skipped school. At the beginning of his career he focussed especially on snooker, later he also played pool.[2] For the sake of clarity Drago’s careers in these two billiard variations are shown here separately.

Snooker

Beginnings and rise to 10th place in the world rankings

By the early 1980s, Drago was already considered one of Malta’s best snooker players and was designated as part of a Maltese selection to play against a selection of London snooker players. One of those players, Vic Harris, spotted Drago’s potential. With the help of a Maltese entrepreneur, Harris arranged for Drago to come along to London to hone his skills.[9] In 1984, he briefly returned to Malta to win the Maltese Snooker Championship.[10] As a result, he was allowed to participate in the World Amateur Championship, where he reached the round of 16.[11] Furthermore, he was invited to the professional Costa Del Sol Classic but lost his opening match straight away.[12] In 1985 he became Maltese vice-champion,[11] before turning professional in the 1985-86 season.[4]

By this time Drago’s name was already well known in the snooker world.[7] Thus Drago was already allowed to play in the 1985 World Snooker Championship, a few months before the start of his professional career, together with six-time world champion Ray Reardon and John Virgo an exhibition session shortly before the World Championship final.[9] As a professional, the Maltese quickly enjoyed success, including a Round of 16 appearance in the 1985 Grand Prix and a quarterfinal appearance in the 1986 UK Championship.[13] A quarter-final appearance in the 1988 Snooker World Championship[14] secured Drago a rise to number 20 in the world rankings.[6] Further comparable results in the following seasons[15] secured him continuously a place in the top 30.[6] In tournaments without influence on the world ranking Drago also entered finals for the first time in that period, but he lost both the Pontins Professional 1989 and the World Masters 1991.[15] Additionally he reached the final of the 1989 World Cup as a member of Team “Rest of the World” but lost there as well.[16]

Thanks to several above-average results during the 1992/93 season, including a final appearance in the European Challenge invitational tournament and victory in the third event of the 1993 Strachan Challenge,[17] drago was back up to number 20 in the world rankings by mid-1993.[6] Apart from further appearances in the finals of invitational tournaments, including a victory at the Guangzhou Masters in 1996, he was consistently ranked at No. 20 in the following three seasons thanks to several more quarter-final appearances in ranking tournaments[18] he consistently finished in the Top 16 over the next three seasons.[6] Drago was able to maintain his form in the ranking tournaments, and he also reached a final in this type of tournament for the first time at the 1997 International Open,[19] he climbed to a career-best 10th place in the world rankings over the next two seasons.[6]

Slow descent and loss of professional status

After that Drago’s results got worse and worse and settled on a mediocre level. The highlights of the following six seasons were semi-final appearances at the German Masters 1998, the Irish Open 1998 and the European Open 2004. Additionally he managed a maximum break (147 points in one shot) at the Benson and Hedges Championship 2002 for the only time in his professional career.[20] Before that, he had already scored a break of 149 points during practice (see Maximum Break#Special Case 16-Reds-Clearance).[21] Nevertheless, his results were always enough for a place in the top 30.[6] Afterwards, however, his results deteriorated further and Drago was eliminated in most tournaments still in the qualification.[22] As a result, he slipped to 73rd in the world rankings within four seasons,[6] losing his professional status after 23 straight seasons.[4]

Drago at the 2012 Paul Hunter Classic

Even during his professional career, Drago had regularly competed in amateur tournaments, including the Dutch Open, the Paul Hunter Classic and its precursors, and the snooker competition at the 2005 World Games.[23] Now, however, he had to rely entirely on amateur tournaments. Drago did, however, achieve success straight away; while his quarter-final appearance at the 2009 European Championships was already an exclamation mark, his victory at the EBSA International Play-Offs was extremely important, as it qualified Drago for the professional tour once again.[24] He had yet to accomplish the same feat at the Pontin’s International Open Series.[25] He continued to compete in amateur tournaments in the following years,[24] …most notably the 3 Kings Open, where he reached the final on several occasions.[26]

Over the next three seasons, Drago’s results were so good,[27] that he had a secure place in the top 64 of the world rankings. However, as he just missed the top 64 at the end of the 2010-11 season, finishing 65th,[6] he once again lost his professional status.[4] However, as one of the top two non-qualifying professional players from Europe (alongside Luca Brecel), the World Federation granted him a professional spot for two more seasons.[28] But as his results were still not enough for a place in the top 64,[29][6] he lost his professional status right after that.[4] Thanks to some good results in European tournaments of the Players Tour Championship 2013/14 Drago qualified via the European Tour Order of Merit for two more professional seasons.[30] At that time he was one of the oldest professional players and trained especially together with Michael Georgiou.[1] Nevertheless, his results did not improve at all,[31] so that in mid-2016 he again lost his professional status.[4] The attempt of a direct re-qualification, this time via the Q School, failed this time.[32]

Back at the amateur level

He also failed in his attempt to re-qualify via Q School in 2017. He at least participated in the amateur qualifier at the 2017 Paul Hunter Classic, after which he retired from professional snooker.[33] In the summer of 2018, he officially announced he was giving up all ambitions regarding professional status. He said he wanted to return to Malta and continue playing at Maltese level as well as internationally in senior tournaments.[34] That same year, Drago suffered heart failure and subsequently had to spend some time in hospital. Meanwhile he supported Alex Borg as a training partner.[35]

Together with Duncan Bezzina, he won the 2019 European team championship.[36] Back in 2015, Drago had teamed up with Brian Cini to win the European Championship runner-up title for Malta.[37] That same year, he managed a Round of 16 appearance at the World Seniors Championship and a quarter-final appearance at the European Seniors Championship. This was followed by a main round appearance in the WSF Open 2020.[38]

Pool

Drago at the Mosconi Cup 2008

From 1999 onwards, Drago regularly participated in professional pool tournaments, but for a long time he limited himself to a few tournaments: the World Pool Masters, which he managed to win in 2003, the World Pool League, where he reached the semi-finals in 2005, and the WPA 9-ball World Championship, where he won a bronze medal in the 2003 edition. He also reached the final of the 2005 Austrian Open.[39] Successful years followed after that, as he reached several finals between 2006 and 2008. Among others, he won the French Open 2008 and the Predator International Championship 2008. As a member of the European team, he recorded further title wins at the Mosconi Cup 2007 and the Mosconi Cup 2008,[40] where he was also named Most Valuable Player in 2007.[35] He lost other finals, including that of the 2007 European Championship in 8-Ball. His successes in 2008 brought Drago to 14th place in the annual ranking.[40]

In the following years, Drago continued to perform well. He was regularly eliminated from tournaments only in the semi-finals, but only twice reached finals until the end of 2014, which he also lost each time.[41] It wasn’t until 2015 that he was able to win another tournament, in addition to losing another final.[42] But since then Drago largely withdrew from pool and only returned for a few tournaments, especially for the World Cup of Pool.[43]

How to play

Drago is considered a very talented player. His tremendous game speed is particularly highlighted, which often earned him comparisons to Jimmy White early in his career.[7] Hence his most common nickname, “The Tornado”.[44] Drago himself sees the origin of his speed in his beginnings in Malta, where he played as fast as possible in the snooker halls to be able to play as many frames as possible in his booked time.[45] So Drago also holds several speed records in snooker: for the fastest century break (in 3 minutes and 31 seconds against John Higgins at the 1996 UK Championship), for the fastest won frame (in 3 minutes against Danny Fowler at the 1988 International Open) and the unofficial record for the fastest won game in best of 5 frames mode (in 34 minutes against Sean Lanigan at the second event of the 1993 Strachan Challenge),[46] but also the record for the fastest game won in best of 17 frames (in 81 minutes against Joe O’Boye at the 1990 UK Championship).[47] This speed of play is coupled with an attacking style of play.[1] Furthermore the hole play belongs to Drago’s strengths,[48] …as is break-building. Both are to some extent connected with his fast style of play.[2]

In general, the charismatic Drago is considered one of the most popular snooker players.[1] Even in his early years as a professional, he was often primarily out to entertain spectators, for example by playing daring shots.[2] However, Drago is considered to be something of a hothead.[49] Drago’s weak points are his lack of continuity, his lack of nerves and his susceptibility to mistakes due to his speed.[7] Often his mistakes are based on a suboptimal selection of the next shot.[2] In addition, he regularly produces errors when playing with the auxiliary cue.[50] Jimmy White described Drago in his autobiography as “one of the most talented players ever” and a “fantastic player” who never managed to reach his full potential. This was mainly because sometimes his temper got the better of him.[51]

Successes

Drago managed to reach numerous finals during his career, most of which he lost. A complete overview of those finals can be found in the article Tony Drago/Achievements.

Web links

Commons: Tony Drago– Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual references

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  49. Clive Everton:Drago left fuming by Ebdon’s go-slow.The Guardian, 26 April 2003, accessed 8 May 2021 (English).

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