The Year 2022 – The Winners

This piece is the first of a small series looking at the highs and lows in our favourite sport, snooker, during 2022. The focus here will not be solely on those who won at the table, but also on those in snooker who won important personal battles.

When reading this, keep in mind that those are only my personal views, not some kind of “truth”. So … here goes.

The first-timers

Hossein Vafaei – 2022 Shoot-out

The Shoot-out is not the most prestigious event, many, including me, are of the opinion that it should not be ranking, but this was a remarkable, and difficult, victory for Hossein Vafaei and not just because he became the first Iranian player to win a professional ranking tournament.. This whole year has been extremely difficult for him. His beloved grand-mother had past away just before the tournament and a tearful Hossein dedicated his win to her. The political situation in his country has been awful and he recently admitted to being terribly worried about his loved ones and crying watching the news. In comparison a snooker title looks quite unimportant but to achieve it under the circumstances deserves respect and praise … no matter some of the questionable opinions he expressed 😉

Fan Zhengyi – 2022 February European Masters

Fan’s first ranking title came as a total surprise. Nobody, except, maybe, those practising with him, expected it. His win over Ronnie in the final was seen as a big shock. Of course, it was in a way, but the signs were there from the start of the week. Indeed, en route to the final, he had beaten Aaron Hill, Kyren Wilson, Yan Bingtao, David Gilbert and Graeme Dott. That’s him overcoming five top 20 players, including three top 16 players during the week. The pundits didn’t rate fan at all. One reason for that was that he hadn’t scored many centuries during his pro career thus far. What they apparently didn’t know is the story behind it: in an interview with Liu Song in China, he had explained that he deliberately avoided making centuries, wanting his first professional century to be a 147. After the 2021 World Championship, he dropped the idea… Fan hasn’t done much since and this is probably not that surprising. He’s a shy character and all of a sudden the spotlights and expectations were on him. He needs more time to adjust to this new situation.

Robert Milkins – 2022 Gibraltar Open

The Gibraltar Open is not the most prestigious tournament in the calendar. It is actually the last event still played under the old “PTC” format. But, for Robert Milkins, winning it at 46 years of age, it was the best achievement of his career, especially after what had happened at the 2022 Turkish Masters only a couple of weeks before. Robert indeed had let himself down badly when he became heavily inebriated in Antalya, caused havoc, got into a raw with fans and then collapsed in the toilets, hurting himself. Rob is not a bad guy, not at all, and he was deeply ashamed afterwards. In Gibraltar, he redeemed himself big time.

Gary Wilson – 2022 Scottish Open

Gary Wilson is a very talented player, we all knew it. Most notably he had reached the semi-finals at the Crucible in 2019. He was beaten at that stage by Judd Trump who went on to lift the trophy that year. But Gary had also been very inconsistent throughout his professional career and had opened up about his struggles with depression and other mental health issues. His pride and sheer joy lifting the Stephen Hendry trophy were heartwarming.

The Serial Winners

We had two serial winners this year.

Neil Robertson was probably the best performer of the first half of the year, winning the 2022 Masters, the 2022 Players Championship and the 2022 Tour Championship. In the latter he beat John Higgins by 10-9 in the final, having trailed 9-4. In 2022 Neil has won 39 of the 50 matches he played. He has reached no less than seven semi-finals.

Mark Allen has dominated snooker since the start of the 2022/23 season. He’s far ahead of everyone else in the current one year list: he has earned himself 405000 points … Ryan Day is second wit a comparatively meagre 136500 points. Mark has won two titles this season: he has defended his Northern Ireland crown and has won the 2022 UK Championship. He has won 31 of the 39 matches he has played so far this season. But, more importantly, Mark has won his personal battles, sorting out his private life and getting much, much fitter.

The Goat – Ronnie O’Sullivan

By winning his 7th World Title at the Crucible last May, Ronnie has definitely cemented his place as the greatest of all times … for now, because, of course, such a status stands only ever until someone does even better. But it will take some beating this one! He now owns nearly every record in our sport: most World Titles (7- joint wit Stephen Hendry), most UK Championship titles (7), most Masters titles (7), most ranking titles (39), most “Triple Crowns” (21), most centuries (en route to 1200…), most maximums (15) … and more. He’s won two more titles this season already: the 2022 Hong Kong Masters and the 2022 Champion of Champions.

This is how David Hendon, writing for Eurosport a couple of days ago, was reflecting about Ronnie’s status in snooker:


Ronnie O’Sullivan won a seventh world title in 2022. It confirmed his greatest of all time status, writes Dave Hendon. Yet, as ever with The Rocket, that only tells half the story. The 47-year-old Rocket, Hendon writes, manages to be both a figurehead and a rebel at the same time, simultaneously putting snooker on the map and then scribbling over it.

Ronnie O’Sullivan began 2022 as most people’s pick for snooker’s GOAT but with a nagging reason to dissent from this view: he had six world titles to his name while Stephen Hendry had won seven.

Any doubt as to his status was removed by O’Sullivan’s magnificent triumph at the Crucible in the spring, the crowning moment of his whole career which reduced him to tears in the arena and the Eurosport studio.

This was the real Ronnie: passionate, committed and emotional. The World Championship, with its prestige, profile and length of matches, is like no other event. It’s like climbing a succession of mountains, having to survive various rockfalls along the way.

Throughout the 17 days O’Sullivan’s focus was exemplary. There were no major slips on table or off it. Judd Trump came back at him on the final day but O’Sullivan recovered his composure in the concluding session. 

Seventh heaven had been a long road. There was a time when some doubted, given the turmoil his life was in off table as a young man, whether he would even win one world title.

But O’Sullivan has proven to be snooker’s great survivor, coming back time and again from all manner of setbacks, controversies and his own love-hate feelings about the sport to dazzle us once more. This year, he cemented his place at the head of the pantheon.

The World Championship is snooker’s ultimate prize, far outstripping any other. It is a such a Holy Grail that players unsuccessful in Sheffield can end up being defined by coming up short, as Jimmy White will attest. Therefore, a Crucible win can make up for deficiencies elsewhere. It can also mask the true picture.

Between winning his sixth world title in 2020 and seventh in 2022 O’Sullivan played in 29 tournaments and won only one of them, last season’s World Grand Prix. The last event he captured played under the flat draw format in which every player comes in at the last 128 stage was the UK Championship four years ago.

So although O’Sullivan dominates the headlines, he is not actually dominating the sport. Nobody is, because the standard through the ranks is now so high that lower ranked players are more than capable not only of causing upsets but of winning titles. Fan Zhengyi, a completely unheralded player stationed 81st in the rankings, was the best example of this when he beat the Rocket in the European Masters final last February.

Where O’Sullivan can still be backed to come good is in an environment which feels special, in which his stature is amplified, hence he triumphed at the Hong Kong Masters this season, an elite event which attracted a record live audience of 9,000 people. He also won the Champion of Champions, another one-table, big money tournament designed for the best.

The everyday events which form the bread and butter of the circuit do not get his juices flowing as much after 30 years on tour, so in these he tends to be vulnerable.

It makes sense. If he put as much intensity into every event as he did the Crucible this year he would burn out. His strategy instead is to treat tournaments as mini-breaks, not putting too much pressure on himself. He checks out the route for his morning run, finds a local coffee shop and also plays a snooker match or two.

At this stage of his career, enjoying the experience of being at tournaments is as important as whether he wins them, although he is clearly still a competitive animal in the arena, often berating himself for mistakes and talking down what appear to mere mortals to be strong performances.

But when he gets knocked out he is usually gracious. In fact, most of his uncomfortable interviews come when he has won.

He has received criticism from fellow players. Hossein Vafaei bizarrely called for him to quit the game before the World Championship. Shaun Murphy questioned a perceived lack of gratitude towards snooker at the UK Championship.

Some players feel O’Sullivan receives special treatment. In some ways they are right, but then again he is special. It’s always his face on the posters, his name in lights. He is used to sell a sport from which many others make a good living.

Snooker will ultimately survive without him, but it will miss him. It should count itself lucky that his popular brand of play and at times eccentric personality continues to bring in huge audiences. There is ample room for others to shine, and they do, but many fans still come to events first and foremost because of him.

So what does 2023 hold? O’Sullivan’s profile is set to grow further with the release of the Netflix documentary filmed last season, which includes his Crucible triumph.

It will bring him – and snooker – to new audiences, so promises to be a positive for the sport, although it will doubtless also touch on the aspects of the game that he dislikes.

The paradox of O’Sullivan is that he manages to be both a figurehead and a rebel at the same time, simultaneously putting snooker on the map and then scribbling over it. Yet the game still runs through his veins. The many retirement threats have come to nothing. He is 47 now but plays like a young man. There is no obvious decline. His eyesight is good and he keeps himself physically fit.

The truth is, through his own remarkable achievements O’Sullivan has reached the enviable position of having nothing left to prove. Any title he wins now is only adding to a formidable legacy of greatness.

The last question mark against him was removed in 2022. On snooker’s most revered stage, our sport’s great survivor outlasted them all, and proved beyond any reasonable doubt that he is the best there has ever been.

And more …

Of course there were more winners this year, here is the complete list (source

Special mentions to …

Joe Perry who won his second ranking title at the 2022 Welsh Open, at the age of 47. Only Ray Reardon did better: he was 50 years old when he won his final ranking event in 1982… Joe does a lot for the game, and for the young aspiring amateurs. Without his help Neil Robertson may never have fulfilled his huge potential and may never have achieved what he has in our sport. He deserves more recognition for his contribution to the game than he actually gets from the fans.

Mark Selby who won the last event of the season, the 2022 English Open ending a bare spell that lasted over a year and a half, but is also winning a much more important battle against depression and has found the courage and strength to talk openly about it.

In the coming days I will publish three more pieces about the year 2022 on the baize: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Stay tuned…