Steve Feeney about Stephen Hendry

Steve Feeney spoke to WST about his work with Stephen Hendry 

Hendry Has Point To Prove – Feeney

Snooker coach Stephen Feeney, who has been working alongside Stephen Hendry ahead of his return to the professional scene, believes the seven-time World Champion will have doubters to prove wrong when he takes to the baize.

King of the Crucible Hendry was afforded the opportunity to return to the World Snooker Tour last month, taking up the offer of a two-year invitational tourcard. However, the Scot is yet to make his first appearance of the season. Hendry’s last professional appearance came at the 2012 World Championship, after which he announced he was retiring.

SightRight coach Feeney has been working with 51-year-old Hendry for a number of months and has been instrumental in his decision to return to the circuit.

We’ve caught up with Feeney to find out how Hendry’s preparations are going on the practice table…

First of all Steve, how has the work you’ve been doing with Stephen been going so far?

“In terms of play, the sessions that we are having are regular. He is going through the same process as Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams. We have a fixed plan. The planning for what we need to do is robust. The one main objective is for him to enjoy it. Every session we have, there is disciplined stuff and there is fun stuff.

“He still knows the shots to play. He still knows the game inside out. So he still has all of that knowledge. All that had happened is that the skill had deteriorated. His long game in practice has been phenomenal. I know when I can put somebody’s long game back together, it can translate into the rest of the game as well.”

What do you feel are achievable objectives for Stephen this season?

“Can we do what Peter Wright did in darts and win the world title at the age of 50? Stephen wouldn’t talk that way. He just loves playing the game. He is deeply competitive though. As the work goes forward, I would hope he would believe that even if it is a small one, there is a chance. The first thing is to help him really continue enjoying the game. Such is the spirit and competitiveness of this guy that winning will help him enjoy it more. For him to compete at the top level would be the icing on the cake. If he feels he can compete at the top level, he will probably feel he can win at the top level.”

How much work do you feel needs to be done for Stephen to reach his best level?

“There is work to be done, you almost look at it like a boxing match. How many hours does a person need to train to be able to put up with three minute rounds of boxing? Snooker is a worldwide competitive sport now. We know that there are some strong competitors ahead. We know he will not play until he is ready to go in at the top level. We know he is not going to want to lose and only wants to win. There is a part of it which is making me want to up my game even more than with Mark and with Ronnie. We are having great fun. I love seeing him pump the chest out when things are going right.

“I think for my part we are having conversations that matter. Conversations that respect the huge legacy that he has. To continue it in any way shape or form is about winning. In the process if he could win big, that would be pretty special. Just to see him happy in the game we are already winning. He is playing some shots that he has said he couldn’t play before. I think we are adding to the mix that this guy knows how to win. The other guys at the top of the game know he knows how to win. If we can do our stuff right and he can carry the same composure out there into matches, people will have a problem on their hands and won’t want to be drawing him in the first round at tournaments. I’ve seen the best at work, close up, and this guy is special.”

Hendry after winning his seventh world title in 1999.

How motivated are you to help Stephen to achieve and be a success on his return?

“I look at it as a fairly exciting opportunity ahead. There is a fair bit of responsibility, in terms of delivering on promises. Stephen has trusted me in terms of what I’ve said I believe can be done. I trust in him as the individual and champion that he is. Is there stuff to prove? There probably is. The fans will love to see him play. Many of the pros will be waiting for proof. We are well aware of that.

“There are some top players who will believe Stephen can never win another ranking title again. When people say to me things can’t be done I tend to think, lets have a go. Can he? There is incredible skill there. He is a seven-time World Champion and we will see how the journey evolves.”

When do you anticipate Stephen entering his first event?

“I’d be prepared to wait as long as we need to. As long as the conditions are right. If the conditions are right in terms of the venue and the opportunity, as soon as he is ready, we go. My view with Stephen is that we want to get him back into top 16 status with the standard of his play as soon as possible. That is the only way that we can be comfortable. Every practice session is geared and targeted that way and we are working hard.

“If he was to win another title, or at least if he was to be in the mix at the Crucible. Wouldn’t that be a special thing for the sport? If Stephen making the Crucible again in his career, in his 50s, isn’t special enough for the sport, I don’t know what is. If he was to come out and be the player that everybody remembers him for, or even better, wouldn’t that be good.”

Can Stephen Hendry really get back to top 16 level? I’m not sure.

When Hendry came on the scene as a young lad, he started a revolution. No  pro player at the very start of the 90th had an answer to his ultra attacking game, to his exceptional ability to slot long ones from the baulk cushion, hold for blue or black, and clear the table in one visit. But of course, the younger aspiring players learned  from himand copied his game. Answers were found. Ken Doherty beating Stephen Hendry by 18-12 in the 1997 World Final, with a high break of just 85, whilst Hendry had five centuries was a huge moment although it may not have felt that way there and then. Before that match, Hendry had reached 37 ranking finals, won 28, lost 9. From there he still reached 20 ranking finals, won 8, lost 12. He only won one “major” after that defeat, the 1999 World Championship, he had won 17 of them previously. Hendry was only 28 when Ken beat him, there is no way he was “past it”. What happened? Well, in my oponion, two things: a number of younger players came on the scene when the game was opened, became able to “copy” Stephen’s game and play it at a high level whilst they also developped the safety side of their game, something Hendry was reluctant to do AND Hendry’s confidence – which played a huge part in his ability to be a serial winner – was seriously damaged. Countless times in the noughties, I have seen him start a match strongly, miss just the one shot, and spiralling down from there. And he hated it. It was all about winning and he wasn’t winning.

Can he accept that he will make mistakes, that he will be beaten and still be able to enjoy his snooker? If the answer is yes, it could be very interesting, if not, I can’t see him playing competitively much at all.

 

Already thinking about the Masters

It’s only the start of the season, but in less than three months the 2021 Masters should be played in Alexandra Palace. There are only three more ranking events to be completed until the line-up is known.

Matt Huart has been looking at the “Race to the Masters”

Race to the Masters 2021: Three to Go

Already with just two events completed during this most unusual of snooker seasons, the qualification race for the 2021 Masters is already approaching a critical stage with just three events to be completed before the all-important seeding cut-off to determine the 16-player field.

Snooker’s most prestigious invitational event is scheduled to return to London’s Alexandra Palace from 10-17 January 2021 and will feature the world’s top 16 ranked players following December’s UK Championship. This period therefore includes all prize money earned at ranking events from the 2018 Scottish Open up to and including the 2020 UK Championship.

With just the final stages of the Championship League, the Northern Ireland Open and the UK Championship still to be completed by that point, already we can see who is safe and who has work to do if they are to qualify for the tournament.

The Top Two

While Judd Trump might be a runaway number one at the top of the world ranking list, the 2019 Masters champion is guaranteed to be seeded third at this year’s tournament.

This is because as is customary, defending champion Stuart Bingham will head the draw as top seed, while reigning world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan will be seeded second thanks to his Crucible triumph.

Safe Zone

Below the top two, with a cushion of over £150,000 to the closest players outside of the 16 incumbents, everyone as far down as 11th placed Ding Junhui(£374,250) looks to be safe for qualification, while both potential debutant Yan Bingtao (£293,000) and David Gilbert (£289,500) are both also well-placed.

Two-time champion Mark Williams (£259,750) is currently more vulnerable with £40,000 separating the Welshman and 17th position, but remains in control of his own destiny at this stage.

Danger Zone

Below him however and the battle is wide-open with just barely £34,000 separating eight places from 15-22 positions and significant prize money still to be won at the UK Championship in particular.

Currently just inside of the cut are Thepchaiya Un-Nooh (£224,000) and Gary Wilson (£221,000), with the pair both looking to qualify for the tournament for the first time this year.

Just £1,250 behind Wilson however is 17th placed Jack Lisowski (£219,750), with recent Crucible semi-finalist Anthony McGill (£209,500) also within striking distance behind.

Further back are the likes of Graeme Dott (£194,250), Ali Carter (£193,500), Joe Perry (£193,000) and Barry Hawkins (£189,750) who can also not be discounted.

The next counting event will be the Championship League (Winner’s Group) from 26-30 October which you can follow via WST.

Article by Matt Huart (@ProSnookerBlog).

Should Ronnie play in the Masters this season, he would find himself in the same half as Judd Trump. But will he play? Desmond Kane thinks that he probably will.

ENGLISH OPEN SNOOKER: IN THE PINK – WHY RONNIE O’SULLIVAN IS LIKELY TO BE NAILED ON FOR MASTERS

Ronnie O’Sullivan is adamant he will not play the Masters at Alexandra Palace in January, but history suggests it will not be a huge surprise to see him appear at snooker’s most prestigious event in the New Year, writes Desmond Kane.

BY DESMOND KANE

It would be fair to say Ronnie O’Sullivan nailed it during his first match at the English Open, his first competitive win of the 2020/21 season. The six-times world champion recovered from trailing 2-0 against Brian Ochoiski to complete a 4-2 win on Monday evening, rolling in knocks of 51, 113, 55 and 52 after his French opponent had pieced together a run of 105 in the second frame.

In true unpredictable fashion, he did so with his nails painted pink for a breast cancer charity, a varnished performance that ended up more Harvey Nics than Harvey Chandler. A win-win situation for himself and publicity for the charity Future Dreams. Don’t be surprised to see him don the mascara quite soon.

“Maybe more guys will show some bottle and put pink varnish on! I had it done in a nail shop. I have to thank my fiancé, too. I really like it,” he told Eurosport after his victory.

He might see it as putting lipstick on a pig, but one suspects O’Sullivan prefers the ritual trudge to test for Covid-19 behind closed doors in Milton Keynes than be confronted by the K2 Leisure Centre in Crawley, a much-maligned venue for the English Open in pre-pandemic times, which he felt had a whiff of urine commenting that “every day in Crawley is a day lost in my life”.

In the current climate, he is no longer hindered by the low-level fame of fans shouting ‘C’mon Ronnie’ during matches or people seeking him out for selfies. Which just leaves the snooker and a manicure to attend to. Another win-win situation for the Rocket man.

As is standard for any O’Sullivan interview, a marvellous sporting stream of consciousness, what he is saying does not quite chime with the reality. Or which direction his future plans might take the next day, the next month or the next year. Hardened tour professionals Ali Carter, Neil Robertson and Alan McManus all felt O’Sullivan was ideally positioned to win a sixth World Championship in August, mainly due to his inimitable ability and an absence of fans in or around the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. They were proved visionaries as he fairly careered to a victory at an event that had started to look beyond him over the previous six years.

Suddenly Stephen Hendry’s record of seven world titles at the venue is back on the table when all had looked lost after he somehow managed to lose 10-8 to amateur James Cahill in the first round in 2019 in which the pressure valve seemed to suffer a blow out.

Which makes you wonder what course of action he will take over this campaign with the snooker season marooned behind closed doors in Milton Keynes for the foreseeable future and every event apart from the UK Championship in York in December due to bed down in Buckinghamshire.

He opted against the Masters last January due to the aggravation that the baying, sometimes boozed up, crowd brings to the Alexandra Palace, but there is a fair chance that the Barbican Centre in York and the Alexandra Palace will both provide a sobering experience, ghostly backdrops unless there is a dramatic transformation in the ongoing joust with the pandemic.

“I won’t play a lot of the events where the circus is around, unless I like the town,” said O’Sullivan prior to the English Open. “So York, I have to accept the circus there because I really love York and it’s a real good holiday for me. London, the Masters is a no-no for me, if I never played in that again I wouldn’t be disappointed.

“World Championships is a bit like that, unless Covid is still lingering around next year then I’d quite look forward to the peace and quiet in Sheffield that I had this year. I’m a lot happier when I do what I want to do and set my own rules.”

If the Masters goes ahead at the Ally Pally, it is likely to be in the same circumstances as the World Championship with no fans or no hassle which would beg the question: why would O’Sullivan not want a slice of that action?

A few years ago in Northern Ireland, O’Sullivan suggested he might miss the 2018 World Championship to film a TV series, but in the end he continued his sequence of never missing an appearance at the Crucible since 1993.

It is hardly a huge excursion to make it from Essex back to old London town for an event that still plays a huge role in his psyche having lifted the Masters a record seven times since becoming the youngest player to win the elite event at the age of 19 in 1995.

During his sabbatical from the sport in 2012/13, he even washed up at the Masters to watch a turgid semi-final between Mark Selby and Graeme Dott when there was no need for him to be anywhere near the tournament.

“I feel more sorry for Ronnie missing than anyone else because I feel it is a huge career mistake for him,” said the World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn earlier this year. Don’t expect him to make a similar call this time.

Expect to see him compete at Alexandra Palace. With or without the gloss.

Desmond Kane

I’m not so sure. Anything is possible. We shall see.

What I wonder is how it will feel to the players in Alexandra Palace if there are no spectators. The “arena” is in fact created by arranging mobile bleachers around the table, in the middle of a huge room, a bit similar to the one you see at the darts world championship. These rooms have very high ceilings, they are difficult to heat and it’s usually very cold in London in January. Without a crowd it will be even more difficult. And the atmosphere will be probably be eerie in the middle of this huge empty space. Already now players have suffered from the cold in Milton Keynes. Mark Selby said that he didn’t “feel” his fingers properly. This might be a huge problem in Alexandra Palace as well , if the usual setup is used. There might be a better alternative in using the old theatre, provided that the renovation works – in progress – can be completed in time.

alexandra-palace_theatre

It’s still big, but it’s a more intimate place, and one where it would probably be easier to create some sort of atmosphere. Whether the heating issue would be easier to solve, I’m not sure.

A wonderful interview with Alexander Ursenbacher

I stumbled upon this excellent interview with Alexander Ursenbacher and thought it is well worth sharing.

Swiss snooker star challenges British domination

Alexander UrsenbacherAlex Ursenbacher (right) shakes hands with Ronnie O’Sullivan before their match at the Welsh Open in 2019. Ursenbacher caused an upset by defeating arguably the greatest snooker player of all time. Swiss Snooker

Alex Ursenbacher recently created headlines by becoming the first German-speaker to qualify for the snooker World Championships. But can Switzerland’s first and only professional potter earn a living from what remains a niche sport in the country?

“Well I’m still living with my mum, so I think that says it all,” Ursenbacher tells swissinfo.ch in a break between playing challengers at an exhibition event in Bern.

The 24-year-old comes across more like a chirpy Cockney than someone from Rheinfelden in northern Switzerland. This is because, despite still living in Basel, he’s spent many hours in British snooker clubs, home to the world’s best players – and practice partners.

Ursenbacher says he settled in straight away. “I like the mentality. I like the banter. There’s nothing like English humour – it’s just hilarious.”

Enjoy Ursenbacher admitting, in this interview after qualifying for the World Championships, to feeling the pressure and “twitching all over the gaff” – something you probably won’t hear Roger Federer say (a gaff is London slang for a room or house).

Ursenbacher has come a long way since picking up a snooker cue for the first time aged 11. He explains how he used to play a bit of pool with his father and one day, having seen snooker on television, he suggested they try that.

“The game went on for about three hours! But I just loved everything about it. I didn’t know the rules and I couldn’t pot a ball for I don’t know how long. But when you do pot a ball it’s a good feeling. And I thought it must be an even better feeling at snooker [than at pool] because the table’s bigger.”

What is snooker, and who plays it?

The balls soon started flying in – and motivation wasn’t a problem, despite having plenty of other things on his plate. “I played tennis. I did martial arts. I played a few instruments. Football. But when I entered the snooker club in Basel there was just something about it. It was so much fun. I just wanted to keep playing all the time – I was up until 3am every night watching snooker on YouTube,” he says.

This day-and-night devotion soon paid off. “Yeah, I started winning some junior club tournaments and a year later I played my first international tournament, in Malta,” he says. “That was the under-19 European Championships. I was standing at the airport with my cue in my hand at the age of 13 and I thought, ‘I could get used to this’.”

Lack of competition

Ursenbacher became Swiss champion aged just 15, which reflects not only his obvious talent but also the lack of serious competition in Switzerland.

“For me, personally, there is no competition,” Ursenbacher says, sounding honest rather than arrogant. “I started winning everything here when I was 14. So that just shows you the standard. I mean, I’m not saying I was crap at the age of 14, but I certainly wasn’t a professional.”

Franz Stähli, president of Swiss Snooker, the national snooker association, says there are about 55 licensed players in Switzerland and about 200 players who take part in small tournaments. “So there are maybe around 250 people who play every week. Pool is a lot more popular because it’s easier, there are more places to play and there are more tables.”

Stähli, who has known Ursenbacher since he was a junior, owns Benteli’s, the snooker and pool hall just outside Bern where Ursenbacher has agreed to appear for several hours and play anyone who fancies a good thrashing. There are five snooker tables and 11 pool tables.

“Although people in Switzerland knew about snooker and played it in the 1970s and 1980s – there were some private tables in clubs – the start of the big time in Switzerland was the early 1990s,” Stähli says.

“Now it’s more the older people who play – 30 plus or the people like me who started in the 1990s. The point is that Alex has nobody to play [of his own generation].”

Ursenbacher left school at 16 but didn’t start an apprenticeship like many Swiss school-leavers. “If you’re Swiss and you finish school, you can always work. You’re probably not going to have a lot of options, but you can always earn money. So I thought why not just give snooker a good go?”

Turning pro

He turned pro in 2013 aged 17, having won a two-year card on the World Snooker Tour. He lost this in 2015, but in 2017 he won the European Under-21 Snooker Championship and re-qualified for the main tour.

Since then Ursenbacher has beaten many of the game’s biggest names, including former world champions Shaun Murphy, Ken Doherty and even snooker’s Roger Federer, Ronnie O’Sullivan.

And then, the Crucible. The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, northern England, has hosted the World Championships since 1977 and is considered the spiritual home of snooker – the sport’s Wimbledon.

At the end of July, Ursenbacher, then ranked 86 in the world, held his nerve during a gruelling qualification process to knock out several higher-ranked players and become the first Swiss player to reach the World Championship. Something very few non-Brits – and no German or Austrian – have achieved.

“I’d never been to the Crucible. I said to myself, ‘You’re only going to go there if you’re playing’.”

One possible dampener was the fact that, being held during the Covid-19 pandemic, there was no live audience – just two players, two camera operators and the referee.

“When I walked out, it was good. I was excited. But once I sat down, I realised that actually it was quite sad.” Was he nervous? “Nothing. I was surprised, actually. I didn’t feel anything. When I was 9-2 down that’s when the nerves started kicking in because I realised that one mistake now and I could be out of the tournament. But before that, I was as cool as a cucumber.”

Despite taking the first game, Ursenbacher ended up losing 10-2 to the experienced former finalist Barry Hawkins. “But overall it was definitely a positive experience,” he says.

In this video he looks back at his Crucible experience and explains what separates the men from the boys:

Earning a living

As a first-round loser in Sheffield, Ursenbacher pocketed £20,000 (CHF23,700). Eventual winner O’Sullivan left with £500,000. This is very good money compared with pool: the winner of the US Open 9-Ball gets $60,000 (CHF54,600). Mind you, these sums are dwarfed by the cheque for $3 million written to the winner of the US Open tennis championship.

He says it’s certainly possible to earn a good living from snooker, but you probably have to be in the top 30. “Obviously your goal isn’t to earn just four grand a month because there’s no pension in snooker. So you need to earn a few quid before you retire.”

To that end, Ursenbacher practises up to six hours a day, five or six days a week. “You don’t want to go to a tournament and feel rusty. You need to be hungry and push yourself all the time.” He adds that it’s very much a psychological game and confidence is vital. “In my opinion, more than 85% [of snooker] is inside the head.”

Ursenbacher’s achievement in Sheffield was no surprise in expert circles. “Insiders have long believed him capable of this. It’s very impressive to see such a talent come out of little Switzerland. Everything he did was of a really, really high standard. Even though he lost in the World Championships, it was still a very impressive match,” Stähli says.

“But he is still nowhere. His goal must be to establish himself in the top 50 over a longer period.”

Stähli, 49, used to be a strong player himself, boasting a top break of 139 (out of a possible 147 – Ursenbacher’s top break is 141). Having himself played against O’Sullivan and Scottish star Stephen Hendry, he stresses the importance of moving to Britain for young ambitious players.

“Alex still spends a lot of time in Switzerland. But what he needs is a perfect practice table. He needs competition. He needs a club with a high standard where he knows he could walk in and maybe lose ten times in one day. That’s what’s missing here.”

Plan B?

Whereas the snooker scene in Switzerland is “small but healthy”, as Stähli put it, in Asia it’s booming, especially in China. Snooker is so popular in mainland China that it’s on the school sports curriculum. More and more young Chinese players are breaking into the top 100.

“I’ve been to China seven or eight times,” Ursenbacher says. “We’re treated like kings! It’s actually quite confusing sometimes because I don’t feel like I’m a great player yet – I know I’m professional and there are only 128 professionals in the world and only 64 go to China for each event. But still, they treat us very well. Snooker’s very, very big in China.”

But all the travelling required of professional athletes is not only physically but also financially demanding. Four years ago swissinfo.ch spoke to an up-and-coming 19-year-old Swiss tennis player ranked 527 in the world (he was the highest-ranked Swiss player under 21). He said that if he was 26 and still ranked only 400 or so, he’d probably give up tennis because of the money (he’s currently ranked 549). Does Ursenbacher, now ranked 66 after his success in Sheffield, have a similar target or a plan B in case the snooker doesn’t work out?

“I’m just trying to do what I love, because if I couldn’t make a living out of snooker, I don’t know if I’d care what I’d have to do to earn money – whether it was behind a bar or behind a desk. I’m a sociable person, so I’d probably be behind a bar somewhere in a club,” he says.

“But as long as I can play snooker and make a few quid, I’m going to do that.”

[A previous version of this article said Alex Ursenbacher was not the first Swiss snooker professional because Darren Paris had played on the pro circuit in the mid-1990s. In fact Darren Paris represented England on the pro circuit before moving to Switzerland, becoming Swiss and playing in amateur tournaments. Alex Ursenbacher is the first and only Swiss snooker professional.]

It’s nice to see snooker making it into the Swiss media, and in such a positive way.

Judd Trump wins the 2020 English Open

Judd Trump came from 7-4 behind to beat Neil Robertson by 9-8 to win the 2020 English Open. He joined Neil Robertson and Mark Selby on 18 ranking titles and became the first player to win 3 Home Nations events.

Congratulations Judd Trump!

EnglishOpen2020Winner

Here are the reports by WST.

Afternoon session:

All Square In English Final

Neil Robertson came from 3-1 down to level at 4-4 against Judd Trump in the first session of the Matchroom.Live English Open final in Milton Keynes.

First to nine frames this evening will collect £70,000 and the Steve Davis Trophy as well as becoming the first player to win three Home Nations events.

This pair, two titans of the modern era, have met 20 times before, with Trump leading the head-to-head 11-9. This is their third final within a year – Robertson winning 10-9 at the Champion of Champions and Trump gaining revenge with a 9-6 success at the German Masters.

Trump is playing in his 27th ranking final and aiming for his 18th title, which would bring him level with Robertson and Mark Selby in sixth place on the all-time list. He has won his last nine consecutive ranking finals – just two short of Stephen Hendry’s record of 11.

Victory would give him his first title since he won the Gibraltar Open in March; that triumph gave him a record sixth ranking title during the 2019/20 season. Bristol’s 31-year-old Trump is looking to extend his vast lead at the top of the world rankings.

Robertson is contesting his 30th ranking final and is hoping to land his 19th title, which would put him one ahead of Selby. His most recent victory came at the World Grand Prix in February.

After sharing the first two frames, Trump took the lead with a break of 59 in the third. The fourth came down to a safety battle with two reds left, and when Trump trapped his opponent in a tricky snooker he was handed the chance to go 3-1 up.

Australia’s 38-year-old Robertson fought back after the interval with runs of 75 and 128 (his tenth century of the week) for 3-3. He made 61 in frame seven before running out of position, but Trump’s counter ended on just 11 when he missed a red to a baulk corner, and world number three Robertson went ahead for the first time.

In the last frame of the session, Trump potted a fabulous long red which allowed him to lay a difficult snooker behind the brown, and from the chance that followed he made 51 which squared the match.

They return at 7pm.

Evening session:

Trump Beats Robertson In Fantastic Final

Judd Trump came from 7-4 down to beat Neil Robertson 9-8 in the final of the Matchroom.Live English Open, winning his first title in seven months.

Trump lived up to his world number one status by making a century in the deciding frame to take the £70,000 top prize and Steve Davis Trophy. He has now won ten ranking event finals in a row in a run stretching back two years, just one short of Stephen Hendry’s record of 11.

Bristol’s 31-year-old Trump moves on to 18 ranking titles, bringing him level with Robertson and Mark Selby in sixth place on the all-time list. He also becomes the first player to win three Home Nations events.

Most Ranking Titles
Ronnie O’Sullivan 37
Stephen Hendry 36
John Higgins 30
Steve Davis 28

Mark Williams 22
Judd Trump 18
Mark Selby 18
Neil Robertson 18

It’s Trump’s first title since the Gibraltar Open last March which gave him a record sixth ranking victory of the 2019/20 season. Brimming with confidence, the left-hander will be excited by the challenge of adding to his haul in the remainder of the season and stretching his vast lead at the top of the world rankings.

World number three Robertson missed out on the chance to win a 19th ranking title and first since the World Grand Prix in February. He banks £30,000 as runner-up plus the £5,000 high break prize.

Tonight’s conclusion was reminiscent of last year’s Champion of Champions final, with both players at the top of their game. On that occasion Robertson came out on top 10-9 with a match-winning century; this time the roles were reversed.

Australia’s 38-year-old Robertson took the opening frame of the evening session with a break of 56 to lead 5-4. Trump looked set to level until he missed the black on 52 in frame ten, letting his opponent in for an excellent 75 clearance.

Trump had first chance again in frame 11 but made just 8 before missing a red to a top corner, and again Robertson punished him with a 114. That put the Melbourne cueman 7-4 ahead having taken six of the previous seven frames.

A run of 76 saw Trump pull one back, and he continued his fight back after the interval as a cracking long red set up a break of 46 to make it 7-6. In frame 14, Robertson made 65 before misjudging a red to a centre pocket, and Trump eventually took it with a green-to-black clearance to level the tie.

Robertson’s missed red on 6 in frame 15 proved costly as Trump made 55 which helped him edge in front. Back came Robertson with a 125, his third century of the match and 12th of the tournament, for 8-8. But he played just one shot in the decider as his break-off left Trump a chance at a long red, which he slotted in to set a up a brilliant 114.

“It was an unbelievable final,” said 2019 World Champion Trump. “I never felt in control because Neil played tremendous snooker and scored heavily. I nicked an important frame at 7-4. I really had to dig in and I’m proud of the way I held myself together and made the break in the last frame. I was just looking for a chance, and when Neil left me the red I had to go for it.

“Neil and I have a rivalry where we bring the best out of each other and put on great matches for the fans – hopefully we can have many more. To be level with Neil and Mark on 18 ranking titles is fantastic because they are two brilliant players. I really want to win every final I get to.

“It will be tough to win another six this season but if I can keep playing well I can get somewhere near that.”

Robertson said: “I feel really good – strangely enough it’s probably the best I’ve felt after losing a final. He really had to earn it and I didn’t throw it away at any point – I was unlucky at 7-6 when I got a kick on the red, but Judd did really well to win that frame and then I didn’t really get a chance until 8-7 down.

“We were both bringing the best out of each other but he made a brilliant break in the decider. It’s great to be competing – the titles come as a consequence of working hard and applying yourself the best you can.

“I had 12 centuries in the tournament which was amazing – you’d be happy with that tally in the World Championship when you’re playing best of 19s. My game’s in fantastic shape and I’m very positive moving forward.”

It was indeed a very good final. Thanks to both players for the entertainment!

2020 English Open – Day 6 – SF

The final today will be contested between Judd Trump, the World number one, and Neil Robertson, the World number three.

Neil, yesterday afternoon, got the better of the defending champion, Mark Selby.

Here is how (WST report):

Robertson Beats Selby In Classic Semi-Final

Neil Robertson reached his 30th ranking event final thanks to an excellent break of 92 in the deciding frame of a 6-5 win over Mark Selby at the Matchroom.Live English Open.

Australia’s Robertson goes through to Sunday’s final to face Judd Trump or John Higgins over 17 frames for the £70,000 top prize and the Steve Davis Trophy. He is aiming for his 19th ranking title and victory would also make him the first player to win three Home Nations events.

For the first time ever in a ranking event, all four semi-finalists have completed the Triple Crown, and they have also all held the world number one position. The quartet have 83 ranking titles between them. Fittingly, the first semi-final lived up to its billing as Selby and Robertson served up an enthralling contest.

It started in cagey fashion, Robertson taking two scrappy frames, then the heavy scoring began as defending champion Selby rattled in breaks of 117, 58 and 73 for 2-2. World number three Robertson hit back with 58 and 134 to lead 4-2 then Selby, ranked fourth, took frame seven with a run of 70.

Robertson’s 129 put him 5-3 ahead and he could have crossed the finish line in frame nine but ran out of position on the last red. Selby got the better of a safety battle on the green and halved his deficit. Early in frame ten Robertson had another opportunity but made only 19 before missing the blue to a centre pocket, and his opponent’s 51 made it 5-5.

A slice of fortune went Robertson’s way in the decider as he missed a long red but left the balls safe. He later slotted in a long red then potted a risky brown to a centre pocket, and went on to make his match winning break.

“It was a fantastic match,” said 38-year-old Robertson. “Mark was as tenacious as ever. I had most of the run of the ball, we had a joke about it at the end. But you have to take advantage when it goes your way. I was lucky in the last frame when I missed the long red and didn’t leave Mark anything.

Then he had a chance but he rolled up to the yellow to snooker me. When I had a similar chance I went for the brown because I’d rather lose a match going for a pot than playing safe.

“It will be a great final tomorrow. Judd and John are equally difficult opponents but present different challenges. Judd is more aggressive while John is very crafty. I’ll just try to play to my strengths.”

Selby, who lost the chance to become the first player in 30 years to win the first two ranking events of the season, said: “It just felt as though no matter what I did today, the Gods were against me. Neil played well and got the run of the ball. I was probably destined not to win – everything I did just seemed to go wrong, and everything Neil did seemed to go right.

“I don’t feel like I played fantastic this week. I’ve dug in and grafted. The good thing is I’m not playing well and still winning matches, which I wasn’t doing a couple of years ago.”

I have put one sentence in bold, because I believe it’s the key, not just of this match, but in modern sport in general: you lose more than you win if you play/compete defensively. You have to create your own chances, and then take them. If you don’t, your opponent will. It certainly is this way in tennis and table tennis as well.

In the evening, Judd Trump beat John Higgins by 6-4 (WST report):

Trump Sets Up Robertson Final

World number one Judd Trump remained on course for his first title since March as he came from 4-3 down to beat John Higgins 6-4 in the semi-finals of the Matchroom.Live English Open.

Trump will face Neil Robertson over a possible 17 frames on Sunday, with the winner to bank £70,000 and take home the Steve Davis Trophy. The champion will also become the first player to win three Home Nations titles.

Bristol’s 31-year-old Trump will be playing in his 27th ranking event final and aiming for his 18th title, which would bring him level with both Robertson and Mark Selby on the all-time list.

After winning a record six ranking events last season, Trump has had a dip in form since the tour returned from lockdown in June. He is still not at his free-flowing best but has developed the very useful habit of finding other ways to win matches.

Higgins led on four occasions tonight, making the better breaks with 50, 52, 133 and 107, while Trump’s best effort was a 102 in frame four.

In frame eight, Scotland’s Higgins missed a tricky red to a baulk corner when he trailed 31-19, letting his opponent in for a run of 49 which made it 4-4. Four-time World Champion Higgins had two chances in the ninth, but first went in-off in potting a red, then got a kick on a black off its spot. Trump punished the latter error to go ahead for the first time.

And another mistake from Higgins in frame ten proved costly as he touched a red with his cue when bridging awkwardly to pot another red. That was his last moment at the table as Trump’s 73 sealed his sixth consecutive win over Higgins.

“I felt I was outplayed, John scored heavier than me,” admitted Trump. “I was just winning the scrappy frames to hang on. If I had gone two frames behind I probably would have lost. He missed a couple of balls from 4-3 and in the last frame he was unlucky to finish in an awkward spot, then he showed great sportsmanship to own up to the foul.

“I felt like a million dollars out there, I was very relaxed and I enjoyed it. I’m very pleased to have had a good start to the season without playing my best. Sometimes my B or C game is enough to compete, and that’s something Mark Selby has done over the years. It gives me extreme confidence to know that under the cosh I can dig in and deliver under pressure.

“I love playing Neil, he is on form and he wins tournaments every year. It should be a great final.”

Higgins, who is still waiting for his first ranking title since the 2018 Welsh Open, said: “I’m disappointed – I missed my chances at the end there. I had a good chance to go 5-3 up and messed it up, and I just got weaker and Judd got stronger.

“I was enjoying it – the conditions were beautiful. It’s tough with no crowd but I was enjoying the buzz of playing, but I just faltered at the end and you can’t afford to do that with Judd.

“There’s shoots of recovery – I’m hitting it a bit better, so I’ve got to try and take the positives. Obviously right now I’m gutted but if I reflect on it in a couple of days, I’ve played better stuff and hopefully I’ll take it on for the rest of the season.”

Over the last two years, Judd and Neil played two finals and won one each, they also played two semi-finals and won one each. Based on those results, the outcome of today’s match is hard to predict, although, from what we have seen this week, Neil is probably favourite but not by much.

 

Ronnie fan? Here is stuff to listen to, to watch and, maybe, to vote for.

On several occasions in recent articles, Phil Haigh referred to the third podcast Ronnie did with Peter Cohen

Peter, who is a life coach, has been Ronnie’s friend for nearly twenty years, and has been at his side in many difficult moments. Here is how he introduces this podcast:

072 Interview With 6x Snooker World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan

In 2002 I recorded a podcast with (then) two-times World Snooker Champion, Ronnie O’Sullivan, recording a second one the following year. Now, eighteen years on, Ronnie and I recorded a third podcast together reflecting on what has changed and what has stayed the same.

In this fascinating interview Ronnie will explain how he has changed from being the young and hungry young player to one of the sport’s senior players – more interested in his own improvement and development of the game over winning competitions and prizes. Together we explore what drives him today both within the game and, more importantly, outside it along with the challenges of being a celebrity and the distraction that trying to meet the expectations of others can present.
As well as his frank reflections on addiction and his ongoing commitment to personal development, Ronnie will also share his views on mastery and how practice is important but not as important as building habits of the right things and doing things in the right way.

From a life in the spotlight since the age of seventeens, Ronnie O’Sullivan is now living life on his own terms.

It’s a very nice, positive interview, an one that shows how getting perspective in life has helped Ronnie to find a better balance and peace.

Ronnie has also been speaking to Colin Murray about his six World Titles, and the program “The Joy of Six” was shown on British Eurosport yesterday evening. I’m told by Buzás Gábor, you works for Eurosport in Hugary, that a shortened version of that program will be shown on International Eurosport on November 22, 2020. So that’s good news. But meanwhile an audio version has been published on “The Break” .

Click on the picture below to listen, it’s well worth it. 

JoyofSixRonnie

And here is the broadcast:

Finally Eurosport have started their campaign to get Ronnie a SPOTY recognition.

RONNIE O’SULLIVAN FOR SPOTY: WHY AWARDS MUST FINALLY DO RIGHT THING BY SNOOKER GOAT

Ronnie O’Sullivan’s sixth World Championship triumph will surely see him selected among the final six for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year, writes Desmond Kane. And snooker’s greatest player finally has a serious shot at winning the award on a public vote.

RonniePensive-2.png

BY DESMOND KANE

It has taken a global pandemic for snooker to be considered worthy enough, but there is no surely no way to avoid the stark truth confronting SPOTY with as much menace as Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins blowing the top off a few cold ones back in the golden years: Ronnie O’Sullivan will finally make it onto the public ballot paper after years of refusal.

With no Wimbledon, Euro 2020 and the Olympic Games in a sporting calendar decimated by the ongoing health crisis, snooker suddenly has its big break this time after being blackballed by the committee of judges more times than blacks have been sunk at the Crucible Theatre.

The only snooker player to win the gong since its inception in 1954 was Steve Davis in 1988 with fellow world champion Stephen Hendry finishing second behind Paul Gascoigne in 1990 when the green baize was still considered trendy enough for a podium spot in the yearly bash. Higgins himself finished second behind decathlete Daley Thompson after his second world title in 1982.

The road to Damascus has been a long one, but if Paul the Apostle rather than Gazza was converted in the end, there seems to be several doubting Thomases on the judging panel in failing to appreciate what snooker brings to the table. Especially when Joe Wicks has enjoyed a productive few months on Zoom.

Never underestimate the ability of whoever comes up with the final list of nominees to abdicate their sense of responsibility in continually overlooking snooker’s greatest player of all time for whatever reasons they refuse to disclose. Even a closed shop would find room for the Rocket Man this time. Either that, or let’s call the whole thing off.

Whether or not they like O’Sullivan’s persona or prefer his sport, is neither here nor there. Some people enjoy marmite, some recoil in horror at the very thought of it, but personal opinion should not be allowed to spread fake gospel. Which it certainly seems to have done in previous incarnations of a curious selection process which seems to have less rhyme or reason than refusing the final black on 140, which O’Sullivan contemplated doing for fun back in 2010 before referee Jan Verhaas intervened.

In such a respect, O’Sullivan has given snooker credibility, a narrative and a serene sense of chaos beyond the darkened environs of his sport by conjuring up a consistent level of magic and mayhem that has rarely been witnessed in any professional arena, far less one that involves a bloke in a bow tie brandishing a cue and a lump of chalk on a 12ft table.

It would be interesting to hear why O’Sullivan has been continually ignored since he won the UK Championship as a 17-year-old in 1993 because the reasons are about as credible as attempting to outrun the virus in a camper van. It appears to be a curious piece of nonsense riddled in class bias and snobbery against the working class roots of snooker and a refusal to recognise the pristine levels that it takes to master the most imposing of all cue sports.

It is a hoary repetitive old tale made even more remarkable when the BBC have given the grandiose title of triple crown to three events it covers on terrestrial TV – the UK Championship, the Masters and the World Championship. You can forget all the hyperbole about snooker majors, a new phenomenon allowed to slip into general discourse without any historical fact, there is only one major and it is back in the clutches of the game’s ultimate entertainer.

More engrossingly, at the age of 44 and playing well within himself, O’Sullivan conquered the Crucible by playing in fits and starts in a quite august August. The concentration levels and class to win such a tournament should not be underestimated even without a frazzled crowd due to the Covid conundrum.

The three frames he played against Mark Selby to recover from 16-14 behind in running out a 17-16 winner in the semi-finals with breaks of 138, 71 and 64 was arguably up there with the best combination of bone shakers world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury unearthed to floor Deontay Wilder in February.

It was three of the most poignant frames O’Sullivan has played in his 28-year career as he discusses on the exclusive hour-long special ‘Ronnie O’Sullivan: The Joy of Six’ on Friday 16 October at 10pm on Eurosport 1.

“I think the sixth one was more enjoyable, in many ways, than any of them,” said O’Sullivan in reflecting on his 18-8 filleting of Kyren Wilson in the final.

“Not because of the way I played, but because there was no pressure on me because I don’t feel like anyone expected me to go all the way this year whereas in previous years it’s always been ‘it’s Ronnie’s to lose’.”

Phil Taylor – a 16-times world champion darts player with a better aim than Dirty Harry – made it onto the list of nominees a decade ago and finished runner-up to Champion Jockey Tony McCoy. Do not underestimate snooker’s popularity if O’Sullivan is finally granted due respect with the ceremony due to take place on 20 December in Manchester.

He took a year off between his fourth and fifth victories at the World Championship yet was astonishingly not nominated in 2013. Seven years later, the BBC have the chance to make up for years of refusal by doing the right thing by O’Sullivan this time.

Anything else would amount to an abject dereliction of duty.

Desmond Kane

LEADING SPORTS PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR CONTENDERS

Lewis Hamilton (Formula One)
Marcus Rashford (Football)
Ronnie O’Sullivan (Snooker)
Tyson Fury (Boxing)

2020 English Open – Day 5 – QFs

The 2020 English Open semi-finals line-up features the World numbers 1,3,4 and 7 … that’s the “lottery” of the short formats for you.

Here are the WST reports about how we got there:

Afternoon session

Selby And Higgins Into Semis

Mark Selby remains on course to become the first player in 30 years to win the first two ranking titles of the season as he beat Zhou Yuelong 5-2 to reach the semi-finals of the Matchroom.Live English Open.

John Higgins, chasing his first ranking title in 31 months, also eased into the last four as he saw off Jak Jones 5-1

Not since Stephen Hendry landed the first four ranking titles of the 1990/91 season has any player taken the first two. Having won last month’s BetVictor European Masters, Selby is the man in form and is just two wins away from another trophy. He will face Neil Robertson or Robbie Williams in the semi-finals on Saturday.

The Leicester cueman had won his previous three matches in Milton Keynes by a 4-3 scoreline, but today’s victory was more comfortable.

After sharing the first two frames, China’s Zhou made an excellent 51 clearance to lead 2-1. World number four Selby dominated the next two frames, making breaks of 72, 52 and 48 to lead 3-2.

Zhou had a chance to win frame six but missed a short range brown, from a tight angle, to a centre pocket when he trailed 43-34. He later played a loose safety on the brown and Selby punished him to go 4-2 ahead. The Englishman sealed the result in frame seven with a run of 56.

“I didn’t play great today but I’m happy to win,” said 37-year-old Selby. “The bit of luck you need seems to be with me this week. It would great to win the first two ranking events this season, the fact that it hasn’t been  done for 30 years shows how tough snooker is.”

Higgins ‘Desperate’ To End Drought

Four-time World Champion Higgins was far too strong for Jones, who was competing in the quarter-finals of a ranking event for the first time. World number seven Higgins now meets Judd Trump or Kyren Wilson.

Ferrule animal: Higgins recently switched from brass to titanium

Scotland’s Higgins won his 30th and most recent ranking title at the 2018 Welsh Open – though he has reached the World Championship final twice since then. Swapping to a titanium ferrule and a different brand of chalk has given him a fresh dose of enthusiasm and he has dropped just five frames in five matches so far this week.

“Jak struggled today and I picked up the pieces,”  said 45-year-old Higgins, through to his 74th ranking event semi-final. “I am desperate to win a tournament because for the last couple of years I’ve watched other players taking the trophies. I feel good about my game. If the ball is going where you want it to go, that’s half the battle.”

It’s astonishing really that it’s been 30 years since a player won the first two ranking events of a season, Actually Ronnie came close to it in 2008/09, when, as the reigning World Champion, he won the last instaltment of the Northern Ireland Trophy, beating Dave Harold in the final, then lost to Ricky Walden in the Shanghai Masters final.

Ronnie was in the ES “studio” and made a few interesting points.

Asked if Jak Jones stood any chance, he answered that he doubted it, not because of Jak lack of ability, but because it would be the first time for him on the main table. He explained that the main table, under the television lights plays very differently to the side tables. It’s hotter under the lights and the cloth plays faster. The lightimg is stronger, which requires some adjustement when aiming if you aren’t used to it. He said that those players who have next to none opportunity to play in those conditions, should be given the opportunity to get a couple of hours of practice on the main table before their match.

Evening session

Three-Ton Thunder Storms Into Last Four

Neil Robertson blasted three centuries as he beat Robbie Williams 5-2 to take his place in a fabulous semi-final line-up at the Matchroom.Live English Open.

Robertson will take on Mark Selby on Saturday afternoon, then in the evening John Higgins will meet world number one Judd Trump, who saw off Kyren Wilson 5-1. The four remaining players in Milton Keynes have 83 ranking titles between them, and they have all completed the Triple Crown.

After losing the opening frame tonight, Australia’s Robertson picked up the pace with breaks of 56, 87 and 140 to lead 3-1 at the interval. His opponent took frame five on the pink, but world number three Robertson rattled in 100 and 133 to finish in style.

“That was awesome, it’s so enjoyable to play like that,” said Robertson. “I lost a tight frame to go 3-2 and that could have been a turning point but then it was a great way to finish. It was also nice to go ahead of Joe Perry for the (£5,000) high break prize because he’d had a 139 – he texted me at the interval but I can’t say what he wrote!

“It’s an unbelievable semi-final line-up because we have all won a lot of tournaments in recent years. It will be an amazing day for the fans watching on TV.”

World number one Trump was far from his best tonight but scored a 5-1 win over an out-of-sorts Wilson. It was a small measure of revenge for Bristol’s Trump who lost to the same opponent in the quarter-finals at the Crucible in August.

Bristol’s Trump made 56 and 53 in taking a 2-0 lead before Wilson pulled one back with an 84. A run of 112 put Trump 3-1 ahead and he got the better of a safety battle on the last red in frame five to extend his lead. The sixth lasted just eight minutes as Trump fired a break of 101.

“It was a strange game, I made some good breaks but I felt edgy,” admitted Trump. “Kyren gave it to me really, he was well below his usual level and he missed more long pots than he would usually miss in a season. I went into my shell a bit, I got too negative waiting for chances. I’ll have to be more positive tomorrow and play better because John is close to his best.

“Kyren has got the dedication, determination and hunger to be around for a long time so we’re going to play beach other a lot. We both enjoy the challenge, there’s a bit of rivalry and we both want to win badly. The next time we play he’ll be trying to turn it up a notch and beat me.”

It may be just a feeling, but it seems to me that most players have displayed little consistency all week. We have had the odd brilliant performance, but for most of it, they have not been at their best. That’s probably because of the Covid-19 crisis, they are not able to stick to their usual practice regimen and routine. Practice opportunities at the venue have been limited.