Looking back at 2017 on the baize

It is a bit of a bloggers tradition at this time of the year to look back at what happened over the last twelve months, good or bad. So here are my picks

The lows …

Stuart Bingham’s ban for breaching the rules over betting 

I touched the subject in this post , where you will find the full WPBSA statement. It always baffles me that pros are regularly caught in breach of these contractual rules and afterward state that they were not fully aware of them nor of the possible consequences. What makes Stuart’s case worse than the previous recent ones (Burden, Perry), is that, instead of collaborating fully with the authorities, he actually lied about a number of instances. There is no evidence whatsoever that Stuart actually tried to “fix” anything, for all we know he competed to the best of his abilities in every match, therefore we can only suppose that he was stupid in doing that, rather than plain dishonest. But still, I’m extremely uneasy with this case, as I am BTW with the constant involvement of WS with betting companies, their main sponsors, to the point that we now have events in the calendar that are clearly tailor-made for them.

Mark Williams not at the Crucible … because of the Shootout

Again, this is something I already wrote about here . I haven’t changed my mind. Making the Shootout a ranking event was a disgrace. This is one of those events that are tailor-made for the bookies. To a very large extend it’s a lottery and it was marred by refereeing incidents. It was OK with me whilst it was just an opportunity for the players to earn some money whilst having a bit of fun. It definitely isn’t now. And the way Barry Hearn responded to the criticisms that flooded the Internet isn’t going down well with me either. He organised a vote with only two options, either keep it on the calendar as a ranking event, or ditch it. There was only going to be one answer. Why indeed would players refuse an earning opportunity? The “missing option”, revert it to an invitational event, wasnt offered, and it’s the one that I firmly believe would have won the poll.

The terrible timing of the German Masters qualifiers

The German Masters is the only “high-profile” ranking event in mainland Europe. It has a decent prize money, it is held in a very special and prestigious venue, it attracts huge enthusiast crowds, especially over the final week-end … but since it’s become a 32 men event,  big names have consistently failed to qualify for it, or didn’t even enter it. In my opinion, the timing of the qualifiers, just before the Christmas break is a determining factor. It’s a shame and here are my thoughts about the situation.

Judd Trump in a crisis?

When in 2011, Judd Trump won the China Open, made the final of the World Championship and ended the year as the UK Champion, everyone thought that he would soon become a dominant figure on the tour, and a multiple Triple Crown winner. It didn’t happen. Judd didn’t do badly: he won six more ranking titles, plus the World Grand Prix in 2015, but the snooker world, and probably himself as well, expected more. This year has brought a number of causes for concern. He went out in the first round at the Crucible, beaten by Rory McLeod of all people, by 10-8, having lead 4-0. He was the bookies joint favourite and had told the press that this was “his year”. In the Northern Ireland Open he lost to Stuart Carrington by 4-2, conceding the match prematurely, spreading the balls around with his cue in frustration after  missing a pot. In the UK Championship he lost 6-2 to Graeme Dott, from 2-0, and declared later that he wasn’t enjoying playing. Judd has all the talent in the world, no question, but his temperament of late has been suspect. Maybe he is putting too much pressure on himself. I think he could do with the advises of someone like Steve Peters…

The highs …

Ronnie’s golden spell 

Since September 2017, Ronnie has made it to 5 finals, won three: the English Open with a stunning 97% pot success in the final where he missed six pots in nine frames played, the Shanghai Masters, his first title in China since 2009, having arrived at the event on the back of a bitter defeat to Shaun Murphy in the Champion of Champions final and in spite of the time difference, and the UK Championship, his sixth, a joint record with Steve Davis, bring his tally of Triple crowns to 18, a joint record with Stephen Hendry. Maybe 42 really IS  the answer to life the universe and everything …

Mark Selby’s big fight

Mark Selby defended his World crown last April at the Crucible, bringing his tally to three World titles. That in itself is an awesome achievement, but the manner of it made it even more remarkable. Mark trailed 8-3 and 10-4 to John Higgins, one of the best all rounders in the game, maybe the best, and he fought, and fought … and fought. He once again showed his extraordinary battling qualities. His style might not be to everyone’s tastes, but nobody can deny that he’s currently the biggest fighter in snooker, maybe even the biggest ever to this day.

Anthony Hamilton German Masters Champion

Anthony Hamilton, 46 years old, won his first and, to date, only ranking title in front of 2500+ at the iconic Tempodrom in Berlin last spring. He had not been in a final since 2002, he had not won a professional title since 1995. Anthony is well respected by his fellow pros, he’s a proficient break builder, but his talent had never translated into big events wins. His career over the last years had been ruined by neck and back injuries. His parents , who were not impressed by his choice of career, had never seen him play competitively, never mind win… and yet, there they were in Berlin, watching their son lifting the trophy. They had been convinced that Berlin was worth a touristic visit, with maybe a bit of snooker thrown in! It was a proud and emotional moment for the three of them. Anthony’s injuries have since returned, unfortunately, but he’s a Champion and nobody can take that away from him.

Luca Brecel wins the China Championship

Not just the feat, but the significance of it … this is a break through for young snooker in mainland Europe. Despite the lack of structures, the relatively shortage of competitions and coaching opportunities, despite the fact that snooker isn’t seen as a sport in most of European countries, making it ineligible for funding and unattractive for sponsors in search of tax rebates, young snooker players from mainland Europe can do it. That’s the big message. Belive me, it’s been heard!

Match of the year … 

Purely for the thrill, the emotions, the smiles, the mutual respect and the marvellous twin interview that followed: a young Thai street urchin meets his idol over 11 frames.