Ongoing Schedule Issues
Just like last season, the structure of the calendar has attracted criticism. The first ranking event of the 2022/23 season was again the ranking Championship League Snooker. The event has its merits in that the first phase guarantees all those who enter three matches against other players of various strength. This is beneficial for the young and the rookies. But it drags over several weeks and lacks intensity. Although there was snooker nearly every day in July, for most players involved it was actually just one day of competition. Also bizarrely, the European Masters Qualifiers were sandwiched in the middle of it.
The Asia Oceania Q-School was played after the UK based Q-Schools, That didn’t leave much time for the laureates to sort their visas and other things they needed to be able to move to the UK. As a result, all of them missed the early 2022/23 events. If anything, knowing that the administrative formalities are inevitable and time consuming, WPBSA/WST should schedule this event ahead of the UK Q-Schools.
Also there were overlapping events, something I can’t remember happening in previous years. Stephen Hendry felt forced to withdraw from the UK Championship because his first qualifying match was scheduled during the Champion of Champions final and he was contracted by ITV to work as a pundit in that event. Hendry got a lot of stick for putting his punditry work ahead of his match, but I perfectly understand his decision. Snooker is not what allows him to make a living nowadays. In addition, the whole issue could probably have been easily sorted by talking about the situation before the format was decided.
Still No Chinese Events
Live is back to (almost) normal in most of the world after the covid-19 pandemics but in mainland China stringent restrictions still apply, most notably long quarantine periods on entering the country. This is understandable in a country that isn’t rich and has one of the largest populations in the world. In urban areas the density of population is huge. In rural areas, distances are huge and medical resources scarce. Therefore the main effort is on trying to control the contagion and the propagation of the illness. It’s the right thing to do, we get that.
But for snooker this has been a bit of a nightmare. We had five very lucrative events happening in China before covid and for the all the players the current situation means that huge earning opportunities have gone missing. For most Chinese players it also meant living in the UK for the best part of the year without an opportunity to actually go back “home” and maybe see their family. This has certainly be taxing on their mental well-being.
Nobody is to blame but it’s not great on so many accounts. Yesterday, Shaun Murphy tweeted that China has now decided to scrap the mandatory quarantine. If true that may be the first step towards a “return to normality” but I don’t expect this to be a fast process. If we have the Shanghai Masters running smoothly at the start of next season, I will be happy. There no certainty though as, since the covid related restrictions have been lifted in China last week, cases have surged and I wouldn’t be surprised if the government soon reinstantiates the said restrictions.
Dull Depressing Qualifiers – Home Nations, European Masters and more
The current qualifying process for the flat draw events is not ideal to say the least. The qualifiers are held well ahead of the events – one to two months ahead usually – which does not guarantee that the in-form players will be at the main venue. They are more often than not held in rather uninspiring venues. Usually there are three or four matches played by session and very little, if anything, on offer for the fans on site between sessions. As a result, although they have been open to the fans, these qualifying events have not attracted many of them at the venue. It’s all quite dull and depressing for the players. All this is in stark contrast with the UK and World qualifiers, with a lot more tables in operation, and longer formats, there is always something happening somewhere for the fans to enjoy.
Robert Milkins’ Drunk Antics in Antalya
Robert Milkins did himself no favour when he got very drunk at the start of the 2022 Turkish Masters in Antalya. An inebriated “Milkman” got into a spat with local fans, then with Jason Ferguson, before going to the toilets where he passed out, fell and hurt himself. He needed to be taken to hospital and have his stomach pumped. Add to it that the majority of Turkish citizens are muslims and alcohol consumption is against their religious principles and you get a right mess, exactly what you want when you just organised a ranking snooker tournament in the country for the first time. The snooker authorities were not impressed, a sobered Robert Milkins was deeply ashamed and very sorry for the trouble he caused. Despite all that the event was a success!
Gibraltar Open Woes
The 2022 Gibraltar Open turned into a disaster. This tournament was in fact the last of the “PTCs”, being contested over best of seven frames from start to finish . With little prize money on offer – reaching the semi-finals was “worth” only £6000 – many players withdrew, notably Mark Williams, Shaun Murphy, Stephen Maguire, Kurt Maflin, Anthony McGill, Sam Craigie, David Gilbert and Anthony Hamilton.
Then bad weather conditions further conspired against the event and its organisation as a “red sand storm” led to a number of flights being diverted to Málaga, where players travelling on non-British passports, and without a Schengen visa did not meet the Spanish government visa requirements and had to return to the UK. Hossein Vafaei , Li Hang, Pang Junxu, Wu Yize, Xu Si and Si Jiahui were all flown back to the UK.
Eventually the big beneficiary of this disaster was Robert Milkins who redeemed himself after his Turkish Masters antics by winning the title, his first.
The is no Gibraltar Open this year. I doubt that there will ever be another one in this format in the future.
Reactions to Jamie Hunter’s First Title
Jamie Hunter plays on the World Women Snooker Tour where she is currently ranked 5th in the rankings.
2022 Should have been a glorious year for Jamie who won three titles: the 2022 World Women’s Billiards Championship, the 2022 US Women’s Open and the 2022 Australian Women’s Open. Instead her successes triggered a barrage of abuse and hateful reactions. Jamie is a transgender woman and some women players, most notably Maria Catalano, argued that she should not be allowed to compete on the women’s tour as, fundamentally, she is a man and that gives her unfair advantages. While this argument is valid in many physical sports, I don’t think there is a case for it in snooker and in particular when it comes to Jamie who is certainly no “Mister Muscle”. She is shorter than me and I’m just 1.67 m high. She is slender and I would be surprised if she weights much over 55kg, if that. Jamie who has struggled with her gender identity all her life, and works very hard to earn her successes at snooker, was deeply hurt by the whole situation.
Decline of the Seniors Tour
There were only two main events on the Seniors Tour in 2022 and, so far, only one is scheduled in 2023. This is NOT because there is a lack of interest. The first Open Series event attracted a huge field. The two “main” events that were held, the UK Championship and the World Championship were successes. I had any number of questions about the situation by readers of my blogs. So then, what is happening?
I don’t have a complete answer to that but, obviously the whole covid crisis has done a lot of damage. Also, I know about some of the issues that Jason Francis is trying to solve. When the decision was made to allow professional players over 40 and outside the top 64 to compete on the Seniors tour, it looked like a great idea and made it easier to get legends like Jimmy White, Ken Doherty and Stephen Hendry in events without needing to seek permission each time. Most importantly it was meant to allow the older pros to prepare smoothly for their retirement from professional snooker, knowing they would get another tour to play in and some earning opportunities coming with it. But the professional Players Contract currently limits what can be done to promote the Seniors tour. Typically professional players can not appear on stream or television, unless no professional event is running at the same time and they were granted permission by WPBSA/WST. In the first years of the Seniors tour, Jason used to stream the qualifying events. He can’t do that freely now. Visibility is essential for the development of any sports circuit and for Seniors snooker the opportunities have been seriously limited by these constraints. Not being visible also limits the amateur players opportunities to find sponsors. What’s the point to pay someone for wearing your logo if nobody is going to see it?
Stephen Hendry’s Wild Card
Stephen Hendry didn’t make the most of the wild card he got at the start of the 2020/21 season. He didn’t play much at all. He accepted a new one for this season, promising that he would play more but has only played three matches so far, and won just one frame. He seems to lack any sort of dedication or motivation.
What’s the point really? For me it’s not about him taking the spot of some youngster eager to play, because he’s not: the tour is supposed to be open to 128 pros and the three wildcards come on top of that. The “top-ups” have no “right” to be on tour, and when offered a spot in a draw, it’s an opportunity they are given, nothing more. What annoys me is that I don’t understand why he accepted that second tour card. When he took the first, his alleged “goal” was to return to the Crucible. He doesn’t like the way his last match there as a pro went, and I understand that: I was there, I watched it and it was a complete capitulation. As soon as the first mistakes crept in, there was no fight at all. That’s not how a great champion wants to bow out. But now, even that goal seems to have faded away.
This is what he had to say in a recent chat on YouTube as reported by “the Mirror”
Stephen Hendry lifts lid on underwhelming snooker comeback in candid chat
Seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry has toiled on his return to action after being handed a wildcard two years ago by former World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn
Stephen Hendry has opened up on his underwhelming snooker return – insisting his plan was never to make a committed comeback to the sport.
Seven-time world champion Hendry’s return to the main tour has fallen completely flat after the initial excitement surrounding his wildcard given by World Snooker in 2020. The legendary Scot, 53, has toiled on his uninspiring return to competitive action after his retirement in 2012 – winning just three of his 14 matches.
And he was whitewashed 5-0 by Welsh veteran Matthew Stevens in German Masters qualifying in his latest humbling, mustering a high break of just 32. Hendry is now a prominent pundit and preferred TV duties to competing in the qualifying for the UK Championship last month, a decision met with backlash in snooker circles.
And the youngest ever Crucible winner has now given his verdict on somewhat of a half-hearted comeback, in a candid chat with pro Matt Selt on his Cue Tips Youtube channel.
“I don’t prepare so I can’t expect to do anything to be fair,” Hendry said. “We love golf don’t we… and golf’s a massive distraction.
“Unless I take it seriously – even playing like two hours a day or one hour a day for a whole month – that would be something.
“But I can’t expect to just turn up. The players are good and the safety has improved and the scoring has improved. But I watch the players play and think if I put some work in I could get results.”
Hendry has been a shadow of the player who dominated the sport in the 1990’s and remains without a win all season. But he admits that he struggles to get motivated to compete in obscure qualifying venues and less glamorous events.
“I’m not saying I could win but that’s not why I came back,” he added. “People seem to think it’s a comeback – it’s not. It’s just a wildcard to play in events.
“I came back to get the experience of playing in venues again with crowds, not to go to Wigan and play in a leisure centre. No disrespect to Wigan but that doesn’t really get me going.“
You wonder what he was expecting really? To have his matches held-over to the venues? Also all thoughts about a Crucible return have disappeared it seems. It’s disappointing, it’s sad.