Experts’ opinions on the upcoming season

WST asked experts their views on the upcoming season:

With the 2020/21 World Snooker Tour season getting underway on Sunday, we asked some of snooker’s top journalists and analysts to give their predictions for the year ahead…

Most Likely Maiden Ranking Event Winner

Neal Foulds, Former World Number Three and TV Pundit

Noppon Saengkham – At the Crucible, Saengkham gave us a timely reminder that he is still on the up as a match player. In some ways his 13-12 defeat to a rejuvenated Mark Selby was as impressive as his comfortable win over Shaun Murphy in the round before. He works incredibly hard at his game and I believe he’s now capable of lifting a trophy.

David Hendon, Snooker Commentator and Journalist

Zhou Yuelong – He came close a couple of times last season, albeit he had a nightmare against Robertson in the European Masters final. He seems quite a calm character and I think he could be heading for the top 16.

Michael McMullan, Snooker Commentator and Journalist

Scott Donaldson – I’ve been very interested in his progress over the last couple of seasons. He’s very good at winning the close, scrappy frames, and I’ve felt for some time that if he could weigh in a bit more heavily with his scoring he could be a top 16 player. There were some signs last season that he’s improving in that regard, and of course he’s already won a non-ranking tournament with a very strong field, so I think a ranking title could definitely be on the cards for him soon.

Hector Nunns, Snooker Journalist

Kurt Maflin – Always a tough category to call, and there are plenty of possible candidates including Dave Gilbert, Jack Lisowski and Scott Donaldson. But I’m going for Kurt Maflin. The Norwegian showed again in the recent World Championship what a powerful player he is and only one poor session against Anthony McGill denied him further progress at the Crucible.

Phil Haigh, Metro Snooker Journalist

David Gilbert – It feels like just a matter of time before Gilbert claims a title of some sort, and it would be little surprise if it was a relatively minor event or one of the major trophies.

A World Championship and Masters semi-finalist in the last 18 months, the artist formerly known as the Angry Farmer has been competing at elite level and has come close to glory, reaching four ranking finals in the past.

A player of his class will not go a career without a title on his CV and there’s no reason this won’t be his season as tournaments come thick and fast in Milton Keynes, just down the road from his Midlands home.

Shane MacDermott, Snooker Journalist

Jack Lisowski – Jack is arguably the best player never to win a ranking title and I feel his time will come this season after a few near misses in recent years.

Neil Goulding, Snooker Journalist

Jack Lisowski – Jack has all the talent in the world and has lost in three ranking finals in the past two years. Those experiences will hold him in good stead and it’s only a matter of time until he’s in the winners’ enclosure.

Jamie Broughton, BBC Radio Snooker Correspondent

David Gilbert – A really talented player. He should win an event in the near future.

 

Surprise Package of the Season

Neal Foulds

Martin Gould – He starts the new season officially ranked 56th, but given his good run at Sheffield I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets back in the top 32 or better. Gould is certainly still very capable and now that his tour card is safe, we might see a return to the kind of form which saw him win the German Masters in 2016.

David Hendon

Elliot Slessor – He showed tremendous steel in almost pulling off a great comeback against Yan Bingtao at the Crucible. He’s got himself in the top 64 with plenty to build on.

Michael McMullan

Ashley Carty – He showed some promising signs towards the end of the extended 2019/20 season, culminating in a good showing against Stuart Bingham in the first round of the World Championship. We’ve often seen players put up a good display on their Crucible debut only to struggle when it comes to building on that the following season, but Carty only recently turned 25 which is young by today’s standards, so I think there could be a lot more to come from him.

Hector Nunns

Sean Maddocks – You need luck and a following wind to make your mark as a rookie on the World Snooker Tour as well as talent, and Maddocks may be a name we will all be more familiar with in a year’s time. The 18-year-old from Liverpool has had to overcome serious injury breaking his cueing arm. He made made his first competitive 147 at the age of 15.

Phil Haigh

Alexander Ursenbacher – The 24-year-old didn’t have the kind of Crucible debut he will have dreamt of this year, losing 10-2 to Barry Hawkins in round one, but hopefully it was a learning experience rather than a demoralising one.

The Swiss was fantastic in qualifying for the World Championship, seeing off the likes of Gary Wilson and Andrew Higginson and showing the class that has taken him to a ranking semi-final – the 2017 English Open.

Ursenbacher has spoken of taking the game much more seriously over the last few months. A first trip to the Crucible showed that his hard work is paying off and I expect further improvements this season after a tough, but useful lesson at the hands of the Hawk.

Shane MacDermott

Martin Gould – The world No 53 has struggled on and off the table over the past few years but hammered an in-form Stephen Maguire at the worlds and ran runner-up Kyren Wilson close.

Neil Goulding

Jordan Brown – The Northern Irish potter will be full of confidence after reaching his maiden World Championship and will be desperate to build on that this season.

Jamie Broughton

Louis Heathcote –  There aren’t any surprises anymore. Heathcote had a good debut season on tour, and you’d expect him to build on that this campaign.

 

Ronnie World Champion 2020

Star Player Of The Season

Neal Foulds

Ronnie O’Sullivan – Not an easy category to define, as you’d have to decide what being the “Star Player” involves. I’d say if a player was to win two of the so called Triple Crown events that would qualify. Most likely to achieve that? I’ll go with O’Sullivan.

David Hendon

Ronnie O’Sullivan – I think the fact that for the foreseeable time all tournaments are in the same location without fans or much media will suit him, as the different set-up at the Crucible did. He says he likes playing for enjoyment and less travelling may help in that. Now that he is world champion again after seven years he will surely be feeling confident.

Michael McMullan

Judd Trump – Trump delivered for me on this prediction last season, and he has all the look of a player who’s ready to go on and perform like that for years to come. It must have been so frustrating that the defence of his world title had to be postponed when he had so much momentum built up, but I expect him to put that to one side and focus on having another productive campaign ahead.

Hector Nunns

Mark Selby – Judd Trump’s rivals are going to have to go some to eclipse his likely achievements in the coming campaign, but Selby showed signs of a real return to form last term. That should have resulted in a win over Ronnie O’Sullivan in their epic Crucible semi-final, though victory slipped away. However working with Chris Henry has seen Selby regain much of his steel and confidence.

Phil Haigh

Mark Selby –  Selby appears to have rediscovered his confidence, his clarity of thought and some of his best form. Or at least he is in the middle of rediscovering it thanks to the help of coach Chris Henry.

The three-time world champion has not been working with Henry long, but the relationship is bearing fruit, with runs to the Tour Championship and the World Championship semi-finals in recent months.

The 37-year-old won two ranking titles last season and his performance in the final of the English Open was one of the finest you could wish to see.

Everything seems to be coming together again for Selby, he looks like he is just about ready to click into top gear, and if he does he is extremely difficult to stop.

Shane MacDermott

Ronnie O’Sullivan – When Ronnie is tuned in to being the best player in the world he is nigh on unstoppable. He has talked about entering more tournaments this season after winning a sixth world title last month and seems to be taking his snooker seriously again.

Neil Goulding

Judd Trump – Despite having over £850,000 to defend, Judd looked in sublime form before lockdown. If he can return to his blistering best he will be tough to beat this season.

Jamie Broughton

Judd Trump – He won a recording breaking number of ranking events last season. I wouldn’t back against him hitting top form again and winning many more tournaments.

 

World Number One at the End of the Season

Neal Foulds

Judd Trump – Surely between Trump and O’Sullivan this one. Judd’s points for winning the 2019 World Champs will disappear at the end of the 2020/21 season, but he has achieved so much in other ranking events in the last 12 months I’d be shocked if he was overhauled.

David Hendon

Judd Trump – He still has a good lead in the rankings and although his world title points will be coming off at the end of the season you would expect him to be winning tournaments. He may even feel more determined now that O’Sullivan has taken the world title. For me, the Trump-O’Sullivan dynamic will be the most interesting thing to watch this season.

Michael McMullan

Judd Trump – With so many points for winning the World Championship, O’Sullivan came from nowhere to finish second on the one-year list, and of course the current number one Trump will have his own points for winning in Sheffield in 2019 coming off at the end of the season. I think O’Sullivan would relish the idea of knocking Trump off his perch, but as ever a lot will depend on whether he plays enough to mount a serious challenge, so overall I’d expect Trump to still be top come next May.

Hector Nunns

Judd Trump – Trump has a big lead over his rivals and despite defending around £850,000 over the season from a spectacular 2018-19 culminating in a first world title, you would expect him to add to his CV in the coming months. Should the big-money Chinese tournaments pencilled in for 2021 not take place, that could open the door for others defending less money.

Phil Haigh

Judd Trump – Starting the season with a lead of over £540,000 makes Trump’s top spot very difficult to overhaul. Not impossible, because Trump’s World Championship winnings from 2019 will be removed at the end of the season, but extremely tricky.

If Ronnie O’Sullivan was guaranteed to compete in every ranking event then he would have a very real chance of catching Judd, but he is unlikely to do so, which makes him difficult to back in this market.

Neil Robertson has a chance, but it is tough to see Trump failing to win at least a couple of events this season and that should be enough to keep him in the top spot.

Losing his World Championship title will have hurt and he may not fire from the start of the season, but when he hits his stride again, trophies will start to amass once more.

Shane MacDermott

Ronnie O’Sullivan – The world champion has almost £350,000 less to defend than arch-rival Judd Trump and that could prove vital in the race for No 1 this term.

Neil Goulding

Judd Trump – Despite having over £850,000 to defend, Judd looked in sublime form before lockdown. If he can return to his blistering best he will be tough to beat this season.

Jamie Broughton

Judd Trump –  Someone will have to play consistently well to take the number one slot from him.

For what it’s worth here are mine…

Surprise package: Louis Heathcote.

Louis had a great season as a rookie, I don’t think he will succumb to the pressure in his second year. He looks solid mentally and was highly motivated by Ronnie’s appreciative comments about him. I think that he’s capable to reach the top 48 this season and beat some household names in the process. Alternative choice: Jamie Clarke.

Most Likely Maiden Ranking Event Winner: Scott Donaldson.

Mainly because he looks very solid under pressure. He still needs to score more heavily probably, but his safety is good and his temperament is excellent. Winning a ranking event rarely is about brilliance, more often it’s about resilience. Scott has that aplenty.

Star Player Of The Season: Ronnie

Bit of wishful thinking but … hey! He’s being mesmerising the crowds for 28 years and counting after all. And he hasn’t changed that much 😉

World Number One at the End of the Season: Judd Trump

Judd has a big lead even considering the amount of points he has to defend. It’s unclear at this stage how many, or even if any, of the lucrative Chinese events will be played this season, and I doubt that Ronnie – the one closest to Judd in the rankings – will play in everything.

Yours? 

4 thoughts on “Experts’ opinions on the upcoming season

  1. I expect big things from Mark Selby this season, as I think his work with Chris Henry will help a lot. Mark was arguably one frame away from winning his 4th World Championship this season, and it took a series of outrageous shots from Ronnie to stop him.

    As for Ronnie, I suppose the default prediction should be that he’ll do this season what he did last season: play a carefree, kamikaze style for most of his events, and perhaps play seriously for 2-3 events that he decides he wants to win. He’ll be the “star player of the season” in the sense of being the biggest draw and attracting the most attention, but not in the sense of winning the most events. He’ll be happy to play stress-free, exhibition-style snooker for most of his events and happy to win 3-4 matches before going home or sticking around for punditry with Eurosport. Will he play the Masters? Will he make an effort to qualify for the Coral Series? Stay tuned…

  2. Some predictions seem quite easy: Judd Trump will probably be the most successful player, and almost certainly finish the season at No.1. Even if he’s had a disrupted summer, he will surely find his form when the tournaments become more regular.

    Other predictions are almost impossible – it really is guesswork. I agree that Donaldson is gradually moving towards the top-16, but he hasn’t beaten any top players, except for Ding Junhui, or in the 5-frame Championship League. He’ll probably need to do that to win anything. A ‘first-time ranking winner’ would probably be one of the obvious players: Gilbert, Lisowski, Wilson, Maflin. The Chinese players seem a bit subdued after all the uncertainty they’ve been through, so I don’t expect much. I suppose I’ll go for Gilbert, but I suspect there might not be any this season.

    It’s hard to know what ‘surprise package’ means. I think McGill might be on the way back up, but I can also see a few other players who can cause a major upset on their day, but lack consistency.

    I’d add another category ‘Rookie of the Year’, since this mirrors the awards at the end of the season. I suspect many of the expert pundits haven’t actually seen the new players, so wouldn’t be able to express any opinion. I’d favour Aaron Hill slightly over Sean Maddocks, Pang is resourceful but may need a few months to settle. I can see the others getting blown away.

    • Gilbert and Lisowski are expected to win their first ranking event for some time now and haven’t. They seem to struggle under that type of prssure. Wilson and Maflin can be brilliant but go missing for long periods. Those are the reasons why I didn’t pick any of them. Aaron Hill has done extremely well in amateur competitions, but that’s not always a guarantee of success as a pro.

  3. And on break off still colliding with the blue ! …..useful talent though. And Lee with a lockdown type hairstyle. Another good find Monique.

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