The 2021 Players Championship – Day 6

There was just one match yesterday: the semi-final between John Higgins and Kyren Wilson. John Higgins won it by 6-1. Here is the report by WST:

Magnificent Higgins Sets Up O’Sullivan Final

John Higgins kept his sensational form going at the Cazoo Players Championship as he beat Kyren Wilson 6-1 to set up a final with Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Higgins came so close to becoming the first player ever to reach the final of a ranking event (other than the Shoot Out) without conceding a frame. Having whitewashed Jordan Brown and Mark Selby 6-0 in his first two matches this week, he led 5-0 tonight, only for Wilson to get one on the board. But missing out on that record will not bother Higgins as he looks ahead to a potentially epic clash with O’Sullivan, with both players at the top of their game.

First to ten frames on Sunday takes the trophy and £125,000 top prize. Scotland’s 45-year-old Higgins is chasing his 31st career ranking title and first since the 2018 Welsh Open. Not since he beat O’Sullivan 9-2 at the 2005 Grand Prix have the pair met in the final of a ranking event. However, including invitation events they have met in a total of 17 finals, O’Sullivan winning ten of those.

Higgins admits he is playing some of the best snooker of his 29-year career, having made a change to his technique, bringing the cue tip closerto the white ball at address. He was runner-up to Yan Bingtao at the Betfred Masters last month and will be determined to go one better this time.

A fragmented opening frame tonight went his way and he took the second with a break of 108. In frame three, Higgins had eyes on a 147 and potted 11 reds with blacks before missing a mid-range 12th red to a top corner on 88.

Wilson went for an ambitious long blue early in frame four, but missed his target and was punished again as world number six Higgins made 70 for 4-0. Kettering’s Wilson looked in control of frame five after a run of 65. But Higgins, 50 points down, converted a superb pot on a red to a centre pocket to set up a 51 clearance.

World number five Wilson at least had the consolation of becoming the first player this week to take a frame off Higgins thanks to his break of 102 in frame six. But his hopes were ended by a run of 74 from Higgins in the seventh.

“I won a massive frame to go 5-0, because if Kyren gets firing he can get on a roll,” said Higgins, who has made five centuries and ten more breaks over 50 this week. “He’s up there with the best players in the world so I’m over the moon to beat him 6-1.

I have moved my tip closer to the cue ball when I address it. One of my friends told me they had seen Ronnie and Stephen Hendry talking about it on Instagram, saying my tip was a long way from the cue ball. I looked back at recent footage and they were right, then I looked at footage of when I was younger, and I was a lot closer to the white. It must have crept into my game over the years like a bad habit. That has given me something to work on and now I have corrected it and I’m trying to repeat the same thing on every shot.

Looking ahead to tomorrow’s final, Higgins added: “I have always said Ronnie is the best ever, in my eyes. I grew up playing him, and he’s still winning the big events, challenging Selby, Robertson and Trump. The likes of me and Mark Williams are in the tier below, trying to nick a title here and there.

I will be honest: I don’t entertain any hopes of a Ronnie win today. Asked who will win today, Stephen Hendry on twitter answered “Higgins” and added that he usually does when he is on top form. Unfortunately, I have to agree. Ronnie’s game suits Higgins, as he knows that he will get chances, not many of them if Ronnie plays well, but, when himself is at his best just one is usually enough. Higgins’ game doesn’t suit Ronnie as Higgins leaving a good chance only comes once in a blue moon. Therefore Ronnie will have to take risks and go for difficult pots. There is no way he can beat Higgins playing defensively. Mind you, Mark Selby, probably the strongest defender in the game, got restricted to 3 balls and seven points. I just hope that Ronnie can make a fight of it, that he isn’t destroyed the way Jordan Brown, Mark Selby and Kyren Wilson have been. That John Higgins has lost just one frame so far in this event is a scary thought! And here is more bad news: if Higgins wins tonight, the two are currently set to meet in the first round of the 2021 Tour Champinship. Aargh!

I have put Higgins’ quotes in bold. The first part is particularly interesting. John Higgins and Ronnie, at 45, are still constantly looking for ways to improve. After nearly 30 years as pros, they are still students of the game, they are still putting work into bettering their own technique, into finding new ways to improve their reliability at the table. This is admirable and something a lot of younger players could learn from.

Neil Robertson will certainly not disagree with this last sentence. He has been speaking to Phil Haigh about his views on the younger players:

Neil Robertson: I agree with Ronnie O’Sullivan, young players don’t work hard enough

Neil Robertson feels Ronnie O’Sullivan was right to criticise young players (Picture: Getty Images)

Neil Robertson feels young players in snooker, specifically in the UK, need to work much harder at the game and has backed Ronnie O’Sullivan in trying to cajole them into action.

Robertson is referring to O’Sullivan’s comments from the World Championship last year when the Rocket said he would have to ‘lose an arm and a leg’ to fall out of the world’s top 50, so bad are the players emerging in the game.

Unsurprisingly these comments ruffled feathers but there have been positives to emerge from Ronnie’s scathing assessment of his competitors.

Jordan Brown came from nowhere to win the Welsh Open last week as a 750/1 shot, beating Mark Selby, Stephen Maguire and then O’Sullivan in the final.

The Northern Irishman began that event ranked #81 in the world and said that O’Sullivan’s comments had riled him up and spurred him on to victory in Newport.

Ronnie, despite tasting defeat at Celtic Manor, was pleased that his words had made an impact on Brown and Robertson has echoed the sentiments of the world champion.

The Australian believes there is much more work to be done by the young players in the game and if the senior players need to deliver some home truths then so be it.

Ronnie made comments about not producing or not reaching the standard that they should be…and by the way Ronnie would be so happy for people like Jordan, Jordan said those comments fired him up to practice more and work harder, that will make Ronnie really happy,’ Robertson said at this week’s Players Championship.

Ronnie O’Sullivan congratulated Jordan Brown after a 9-8 loss to the Northern Irishman (Picture: Zheng Zhai)

I’m in the same boat as Ronnie where I don’t think the players lower down the rankings are practicing hard enough, especially the younger ones from the UK.

A lot of tournaments they’re sort of partying, not putting in the hard work, all the time on Instagram checking their followers. You can’t be a top sportsman and do all that stuff, you have to put in the hard work.

‘Either that would have upset a lot of low-ranked players, they’d have gone into their shell and thought, “oh Ronnie’s saying all this” or they could go, “you know what, he’s right, I can work harder so I’m going to work harder.”

Ronnie wants to see all the lower-ranked players reach their potential as players, so what he did was good, I felt.

We wouldn’t have had the Jordan Brown story if Ronnie hadn’t said what he said, I’m almost convinced of that. Jordan was someone who maybe…I don’t like the tag, but a journeyman tag, I suppose, but he’s changed it.

‘He’s worked harder, got a coach, practiced with Mark Allen and what you’re going to get now is a lot more lower-ranked guys believing they can beat top players.

‘I’m really happy for Jordan, he’s so nice. Hopefully we can start seeing more of the younger players coming through from the UK.’

Robertson made a similar statement at the Masters in January when he was beaten by Yan Bingtao, who went on to win the event.

The Thunder from Down Under feels that the Chinese sensation, who turned 21 this month, is a perfect example for young UK players and how they should go about developing their careers.

‘Yan is 20 years old but seems to have the experience of someone who’s 40,’ Robertson said in January.

Yan Bingtao
Yan Bingtao claimed the Masters title in January (Picture WST)

‘I can’t praise him highly enough. He’s got all the attributes, the hunger, the determination to try to win these events and that’s really good to see from a young player.

You see a lot of them are on social media non-stop, they care more about how they look coming out of swimming pool than what they do on a snooker table. So you’ve got to credit the guys who want to make things happen in their career.’

Robertson added this week: ‘Yan Bingtao works harder than anyone at the game, absolutely 100% and there you go, he won the Masters.’

Ronnie and Neil know each other very well, they are friends. Neil wouldn’t say this if he wasn’t 100% convinced about it. He’s one of the nicest person you could want to meet; there is no nastiness in him or in what he says there. Both him and Ronnie care for the future of their sport. “Diplomacy” has never been Ronnie’s strong point. He says things as he sees them, and often in a colourful fashion as well. But, more often than not, there is truth in what he says. A lot of fans should think twice before getting up in arms about “being disrespectful”. Telling the truth is never disrespectful and accepting the truth is  usually useful as it’s the first step towards changing what needs changing.




18 thoughts on “The 2021 Players Championship – Day 6

  1. I guess that is the other reason why I am so upset about last Sunday. Bc you win some, you lose some, but Ronnie losing all finals he played in this season is disheartening.

  2. As you might expect, I disagree about the tone.

    Criticism is fine, provided it is constructive. Unfortunately it usually hasn’t been. We saw young players like Brecel, Lisowski and Yan reach the top-16 and then be dismissed so harshly that they lost confidence and lost form. It looked almost as if the snooker establishment (governing body, organisers, media, pundits, top players) were happy with the status-quo and didn’t want any new players spoiling the party. Fortunately, since then Lisowski has reached a couple of finals and Yan has won the Masters.

    Almost daily, we seem to be getting these articles from Phil Haigh, often with re-hashed quotes. As a 21st Century journalist, he knows that his livelihood is writing about ‘big names’ – a sort of celebrity clickbate, consumer-driven. In snooker, that means Ronnie O’Sullivan. The impact is that the wider snooker audience only get to hear the message: there are no young players worth watching, and since they don’t work hard enough, they don’t deserve to be watched. There are implications in terms of snooker’s appeal to younger audiences and to sponsorship deals. It must be very difficult for a young player to get support in this climate – why should anybody fund a young player if the game has no future?

    Neil Robertson is usually generous in his comments. Before Christmas he was saying that Zhou Yuelong would be the ‘new Ding’ (as if the Chinese are only allowed one top player – the ‘token Chinaman’), but as always any quotes are used by the media to form their ‘narrative’, so it’s the comment about ‘partying’ that gets highlighted. It’s certainly not the case that young players from previous generations were as dedicated as is made out. Yan Bingtao has stated that he hadn’t played during the summer, and that he took two weeks off after his Masters win. It’s not totally true he spends all of his time on the practice table.

    No, the main problem for young players is that the standard of the mid-ranked professionals makes it very tough for them to win matches, and they become disillisioned after losing so many times. When they do get to play a big match on TV, they are completely unused to the set-up and table conditions, and are made to look useless. Then we get the expert TV analysts using terms like ‘rabbit in the headlights’. There are indeed a few very weak players on tour, but there are also some talented and hard-working younger players who are not ‘rabbits’.

    Anyway, we are here. The two 45-year olds contest the oldest ever final. Coincidentally, they also played the youngest final in 1995, tantamount to their amazing longevity. I don’t think it’s possible to predict what will happen, hence I disagree with your negativity. We have already seen both Higgins and O’Sullivan reach finals this year, yet not been able to reproduce their form of the earlier rounds. It could be a great final, it could be a major disappointment, it could be the last time.

    • Lewis, whilst I agree with a lot of this, I also disagree with the other half lot. I will answer to this later though… we have a match to watch!

    • So unfortunately, what I expected is happening. John Higgins is totally dominating the match. It certainly did no good to Ronnie to watch what happened to Selby. I don’t think he came into this match with any confidence. He’s taken a few tricky pots at the start of the match, missed them, was punished and now he’s missing even the not-so-tricky ones. Snooker is a confidence game and there is only one confident player out there, John Higgins. As I wrote on twitter Ronnie will do well just avoiding the whitewash.
      Now coming to your outher points, Phil Haigh has alo written articles about others than top players: Alexander Ursenbacher, Brian Ochoiski, Anthony Hamilton are recent examples. The ones about Alex and Brian were long, mindful and very positive. Maybe you missed them?
      Luca Brecel is exactly the player that dismissed your point. I know Luca fairly well, and for many years. The issue with him is not “being dismissed”, it’s having been hyped from a very young age. Luca has had some “breakthroughs” but has never built on them and that’s because, somehow, he gets the feeling that “he has done it”, gets complacent and, as a result, doesn’t build on it.
      … more after the session

      • I’m sorry, but he can’t lose to Brown and expect to do well against Higgins. These things accumulate and it is very nice to say how happy he for Brown but it must have an effect. And it is not good in

      • Why not Csilla? It’s not about who you play but how they play on the day. Brown beat Selby at his own game, then demolished Maguire before getting to the final. Stephen Hendry was World nr 1 and World Champion when he was beaten, in the UK championship, by a 17 years old Ronnie ranked 57th at the time. And he was 24 years old, not 45. Do you think he stopped expecting to beat everyone he faced for it? I think that the defeat to Brown isn’t the worse. The worse is that he’s been putting the work in since Xmas, played very well most of the time but not getting the results because a lack of consistency. That undermines confidence, and low confidence in turn induces more mistakes. It’s a vicious spiral.

      • Confidence I would say. And exactly what you say, Monique. Putting the work in, playing well and still messing it up in the final thing. Even if with difficulty ,but would expect a loss to Trump and Selby can be swallowed (OK, the Selby-final was disastrous, but it was still Selby). Not to Brown, there is a qualitative difference I would say and I would expect it to play on his mind.

    • ok… as for partying, getting drunk and treating it like a holiday, yes, I have seen that a lot from UK young players, and from some not-so-young as well. Almost never from the non UK ones, and of course not from all the UK young players, far from it. To me, the main issue the young players face is that the gap between the amateur standard and the pro standard has widened significantly, with the amateur game’s decline. The PTC years have severely damaged the pro-am circuit unfortunately. As a result, those young players aren’t ready when becoming professional and, to make it worse, the current system is extremely brutal and doesn’t offer a path for development. That’s not their fault and it’s soul destroying. BTW, Ronnie said that too in interviews, but it didn’t get the “publicity” his criticism got, which is unfortunate but not unexpected. The only solution I can think of, other than completely rethinking the ranking/rating system that’s not gonna happen under the current BH regime, is to seriously develop a secondary tour, with proper events, decent money and media coverage. But I can’t see it in the near future either. And – this will be controversial I’m sure – I would be in favour of not allowing players dropping of the tour to enter the Q-school until the next season.

      • Yes I agree, except for the Q School idea. We want to have the best players on tour.

        Essentially, the gap between amateur and professional mirrors my point about the strength of the mid-ranked professionals. A secondary tour would struggle massively financially, and only widen the gap. My approach would be a more stratified structure. As for players ‘partying’, that’s not something new. There were players like that in the 1980’s, 1990’s etc.

        But as you say, the media will always focus on the negative headline-grabbing quotes, and that’s the main thrust of my argument about ‘criticism’. I’m not slamming journalists such as Phil Haigh at all – they are doing their job, and it’s hardly their responsibility to ensure the game’s future. My nightmare scenario would be that if snooker does slump in the next 10 years, today’s journalists would then make their living by writing books and retrospective pieces about snooker’s ‘Golden Age’ and Ronnie O’Sullivan.

    • And also, I would reinstatiate the minimum age limit. Maybe even at 18. Especially for players who need to expat, 16 is still very young. Too young for most.

      • That would probably fail due to legal challenges (restraint of trade). Again, young players wouldn’t feel in such a hurry to turn professional if there was a more invitational structure.

      • Why would reinstantiating the age limit fail? It was there, at 16, for years. Or do you mean put it at 18 rather than 16? In most western Europe countries, education is mandotory up to 18. It’s also the age required to be allowed to leave your parent’s/custodian home without a specific legal decision, and the age you get the right to vote and to drive a car. In short it’s when you are considered an adult. That would be a sensible decision in my views and would protect the younger prospects. As I see it Iulan Boiko is another tragedy in the waiting, as were Kaçper Filipiak and Lyu Haotian. Self belief crushed and talent destroyed. For what? Especially for the non English native speaker expats, 18 would still be very young and challenging.

  3. Higgins is like a well-oiled machine. Scary. He’ll pick Ronnie apart. It’s terrifying and makes last Sunday even more upsetting. 😢

    • Csilla, why are you so upset about last Sunday? Ronnie started badly, granted, but after that he played well. I was far more upset about the game against Selby at the Scottish Open, in part because he overdid his running and not for the first time. There is nothing to be terrified about today. It’s just a match of snooker. Nobody will be hurt or worse. Ronnie has nothing to prove. I’d rather have him enjoying his snooker and playing with a smile than crying his eyes out after winning… something I have witnessed in the past.

      • I guess, bc it was totally unexpected and I still can’t comprehend he lost to #81. After he played so well all week. I expected him to win.The game against Selby at the Scottish was disheartening, but he wasn’t very good all week and got caught. But that was upsetting enough, but last week was really the good chance to win a final and I totally expected that.

        No expectations for today, of it’s terrifying in snooker terms, not in the context of world destruction or sth like that, course. 🤔😛

      • Last week, I was expecting Ronnie to win on experience but I certainly wasn’t sure. If you go back to my post ahead of the match you will see why. It’s two-folded. Jordan had played extremely well to beat Selby amd Maguire, two very different matches. He had already exceeded all expectations, including his own. Ronnie came into that match, with all expectations on him, playing an “unknown quantity”. He had nothing to gain, and everything to lose. He doesn’t like those situations. No top player does I guess.

      • Not just on experience, he played really great all tournament till the final. It wasn’t like he struggled all week, but he is Ronnie, so he is expected to do win. He gave credence to it with good play. And then he came out and started awful and it easy to remember all the misses and errors Ronnie made when he was in touching distance of taking the lead and giving himself a good chance. But as I can see from the scoreline against Higgins, he is not doing any better when the expectations are not on him, so it does not bode well to winning any title ever again.

        (Yes, Higgins was scary all week and know people can say look at the revival of Higgins, but this total disaster this year in finals is anything but encouraging. And I guess I take losses in finals harder, because after having done all the work, it is terrible to go home with nothing to show for it.)

      • The expectations are always on him. This I’m afraid will be a complete disaster, and it will hurt. But I’m not surprised after watching the Selby match. and watching it too did no good to Ronnie.

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