2020 has been a strange and extremely difficult year for everyone. The covid-19 crisis has disrupted our lives, we have been locked down for long periods, most of us still are. We have been separated from loved ones, some of us have got the disease, some of us have lost someone dear to them to the disease. Most of us have struggled – still struggle – economically and mentally. And, we are not out of it just yet, unfortunately.
In the middle of this disaster, Barry Hearn and WST have managed to get our sport going. Yes, it’s been mainly behind closed doors, yes, many are tired of Milton Keynes and events outside UK have been either moved or canceled BUT most players have been playing and have been offered earning opportunities, and fans have been able to watch a lot of great snooker. Also, great efforts have been put into making the setup attractive and different for each competition.
Thanks you Barry Hearn, thank you WST!
Big thanks also, to all the players, the WPBSA, the officials, the fitters, the pundits, the commentators, the sports journalists, the television crews and everyone behind the scenes who have made it possible.
And the news broke off yesterday evening that Barry Hearn has been awarded an OBE in the New Year’s Honours for his services to sport.
So, to keep the tradition alive, here are my awards … and the golden turkey.
Player of the Year: Judd Trump
Judd Trump is well ahead of everyone in terms of ranking points, he has more than 800000 points more than Neil Robertson, who is ranked second. He has won six ranking titles during the year: the 2020 German Masters, the 2020 Players Championship, the 2020 Gibraltar Open, the 2020 English Open , the 2020 Northern Ireland Open and the 2020 World Grand prix. He reached two more finals: the 2020 Championship League (October 2020 edition) and the 2020 UK Championship. He has played 103 matches over the year, won 84 of them. He played 721 frames, won 456, made 97 centuries. The only disappointment for him is probably that he started the year as World and Masters Champion and finishes without holding any of the “Triple Crown” titles.
Achievement of the Year: Ronnie’s sixth World Title
Ronnie hadn’t reached the one table setup at the Crucible since his defeat to Mark Selby in the 2014 Final. His last appearance at the Theatre of Dreams had been a nightmare as be went out in the first round to James Cahill, an amateur at the time. His season has been an indifferent one by his standards. For once the bookies weren’t making him a favourite. Very few, if any, expected him the to win the 2020 World Championship, but he did. He went on to beat Thepchaiya Un-nooh, Ding Junhui, Mark Williams, Mark Selby and Kyren Wison to become World Champion for a sixth time, at the age of 44, the oldest winner at the Crucible since Ray Raerdon in 1978. He made 12 centuries during the Championship. He admitted that the reduced media duties, and the absence of crowd had helped him in that there were less distractions, and less pressure as well. It was all about playing… and play, he did, fully focussed from start to finish.
Match of the year: Ronnie O’Sullivan v Mark Selby Semi-final
I have chosen this match because of its signifiance in the context of the rivalry between Ronnie and Mark Selby. Speaking to Stephen Hendy over Instagram during the lockdown, last June, Ronnie had admitted that, if there was one match he would like to be able to “take back” and play again, it would be the 2014 World Final, a match where he lead by 10-5 and ended up up losing by 18-14.
Here is the piece Eurosport did about this conversation:
‘I LOST ALL RHYTHM’ – THE MATCH RONNIE O’SULLIVAN WOULD LOVE TO PLAY AGAIN
Five-times world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan has named the one match he would like to replay – naming the 2014 World Championship final as his major regret.
O’Sullivan looked set to win the world title for a third straight year when he led Mark Selby 8-3 and 10-5 six years ago only to see the Leicester player mount a rousing recovery to complete an 18-14 win with a comeback boosted by a watertight tactical game.
It denied O’Sullivan the chance to join Steve Davis and Ray Reardon on six titles in the modern era and continue to leave him two adrift on Stephen Hendry’s record haul of seven.
The Essex player has not been beyond the quarter-finals since 2014 as he prepares for his latest bid to recapture the sport’s biggest title at the Crucible next month.
O’Sullivan insists he won’t be drawn into long tactical exchanges with Selby – who added two mores victories in 2016 and 2017 – if he comes across him this year.
“The match I’d like to play again would be Selby in the 2014 final because I’d have played it differently,” said O’Sullivan during his latest chat with Hendry on Instagram.
“I would have done everything I could to not get bogged down and keep the game open.
WHEN I LOOKED BACK I THOUGHT I’D GOT SUCKED INTO HIS GAME. IT WASN’T UNTIL AFTER THAT GAME THAT I THOUGHT, ‘YEAH I MIGHT LOSE TO YOU AND I PROBABLY WILL LOSE TO YOU AGAIN, BUT IT’S GOING TO BE ON MY TERMS.
“I’m just going to blast them open, I’m not getting sucked into eight or nine frames of 50-minute frames, because it destroys you.
“I tried to compete with him and play that sort of game, but then I sat back and thought, ‘I’ve lost my own rhythm.’
“I’d rather lose three frames on the spin but keep my own rhythm, because given the chance I could go bang, bang, bang and win three frames back.
“It got to the point that even if he left me amongst the balls I
weren’t even going to make 20 because I just had no rhythm. I learned a lot.”
O’Sullivan certainly seemed to dictate terms in their previous meeting, running out a 5-1 winner in the Welsh Open last eight in February boosted by breaks of 85, 95 and 142.
“Certain players have your number and I think Selby kind of had my number for a bit, I struggled against him, even though I had victories against him,” said O’Sullivan.
“I thought, I might lose to you, but it’ll be on my terms. Ever since I’ve played like that I’ve enjoyed every game I’ve had against him, even if I’ve lost to him.”
Well, given the opportunity to play Mark Selby over four sessions, Ronnie did exactly what he had told Hendry he would do. He refused to get sucked in his opponent game, he refused to enter into safety battles. He went for “hit and hope” shots when in snookers and it worked. Ronnie could easily have lost that match, he was behind for most it. IIn the end, He was 16-14 down and produced an extraordinary salvo of three frames to snatch victory.
Guess what? Mark Selby didn’t like it. He though that it was “disrespectful” from Ronnie to play this way. When he won in 2014, he was praised for “finding a way” to beat Ronnie, and rightly so. This time it was Ronnie who “found a way” to beat him by refusing to let him dictate the pace and the style of the match. He too should be praised for it.
Frame of the year: Kyren Wilson v Anthony McGill World Semi-final decider
This is certainly the most extraordinary frame I have ever watched.
Here is how WST descibed it in a recent article:
One of the most extraordinary deciding frames in snooker’s rich history. As it progressed, wizened Crucible veterans gawped at the screens backstage, wondering what could possibly happened next. At one stage the two players seemed to have invented a new game within a game, taking turns to bounce the cue ball off the baulk cushion to try to flick the last red into a centre pocket. That was after Wilson gained 43 points in fouls to leave his opponent needing snookers, then somehow contrived to go in-off twice. Eventually it was settled by another freakish moment as Wilson fluked the green during a safety exchange. He was on the verge of tears as he potted the last pink, completing the unique frame score of 103-83. “I have known Anthony since we were kids, and in the last frame we were just two young lads out there feeling the pressure,” said Wilson. “We fought so hard for three days, toe to toe, we both gave it everything. It was just the maddest match.” A gracious McGill smiled: “I feel as if the match was stolen from me – not by Kyren but by the snooker Gods. I really enjoyed the fight, it was played in the right spirit.”
But words can’t really convey the drama ir produced… so here it is for you to watch (again)
Most dramatic day of snooker of the season: Saturday 14th of August, 2020
Yes, actually, the third day of the 2020 World Championship semi-finals, was, in my opinion, the most exciting and dramatic day of snooker, if not ever, certainly since I started following the sport some 15 years ago. Both semi-finals were remarkable, tense, dramatic and went to a deciding frame.
Shot of the year: Stephen Maguire incredible “trick shot” at the 2020 Masters
It has to be this …
I love Maguire’s celebration …
Luckiest man of the year: Stephen Maguire
Stephen Maguire didn’t qualify for the Tour Championship, but got the opportunity to play in it when Ding – who had opted to return to China as the pandemic unfolded in the UK – withdrew. Stepen made the most of this unexpected chance as he went on to win the event, earning himself £150000. Stephen had also previously earned £30000 for reaching the quarter-finals of the 2020 Players Championship. That was enough for him to also win the “Coral Cup” and the £100000 bonus coming with it. Basically he got £250000 by playing in an event when he should’nt even have been in the draw. It had to be won though, so, well done Stephen Maguire!
The Golden Turkey
Barry Hearn’s insensitive treatment of Anthony Hamilton
Anthony Hamilton had qualified for the television stages of the World Championship: he had beaten Sam Craigie by 6-3 and Scott Donaldson by 10-5. He was due to return to the Crucible for the first time since 2008. Anthony had turned 49 in June. Over the last decade he had suffered countless back injuries. He was really looking forward to it, knowing that this may well be his last opportunity to play on the biggest scene of all. People like David Hendon and Hector Nunns, who were on-site, were clear about it on social media: Anyhony was absolutely dlighted to have qualified and definitely wanted to play.
The qualifiers had been well under way when the news came that fans would be allowed into the arena, and they would not be tested, and there would be no temperature checks. Anthony Hamilton only learned about it after he qualified. He had been shielding, as he suffers from asthma. He felt that it was undsafe for him to play. He withdrew.
Barry Hearn’s reaction was particularly insensitive and unfair.
You can read here what I wrote about it at the time.
It’s worth reading the comments as well.
The reigning World Champion at the time, Judd Trump, did himself no favour as he jumped on Hearn’s bandwagon
Judd Trump has hit out at Anthony Hamilton for withdrawing from the World Snooker Championship on the eve of the tournament, calling the world No 48 “selfish” and suggesting he should have pulled out prior to securing his place at the event instead of taking an opportunity from another player.
Ronnie however wasn’t impressed by the decision to have fans back, stating that players were treated like lab rats.
Ronnie O’Sullivan says allowing spectators into the Crucible Theatre for the World Championship is treating snooker players like “lab rats”.
The tournament, which begins on Friday, will be the first indoor sporting event with crowds, allowing around 300 supporters to attend each session.
Qualifier Anthony Hamilton, who suffers from severe asthma, says it is “ridiculous” and “too early” for fans.
Five-time world champion O’Sullivan said players “all run a bit of a risk”.
Those that have booked tickets to attend the Sheffield venue will be placed in ‘bubbles’ of up to four people – limited to a maximum of two households – and will be socially distanced from others in the arena.
Temperature checks will not be in place and although face masks must be worn around the venue they can be removed once spectators are seated inside.
World number 48 Hamilton pulled out of the Championship League – the first event that was played on the sport’s return – because of health concerns and called the decision to allow people to take off their masks in the auditorium “a mad thing”.
He added: “Let’s say one person gets ill and dies from the Crucible, that is one person who has died for no reason, just for entertainment.
“I won’t be comfortable in there personally. I don’t know why anybody would be comfortable – we all know it is airborne.”
However, O’Sullivan said: “I defy anybody if they have been keeping their distance from people for four months to say, oh right, now you’ve got to go into a room full of people – unless you have got a death wish, and some people have in many ways and they just don’t care.
“But if you are one of these people that happens to care about your health and are taking it seriously, I totally get how [Hamilton] feels.
“I would feel a bit strange walking in a room with 10 people I don’t know, and I have done. I didn’t feel comfortable.
“So I totally respect where Anthony is coming from, and where other people are coming from – they want crowds in there, they want things back to normal. We have a choice – we don’t have to go and play. We all run a bit of a risk.
“I have the option not to play but I’ve decided to play. Maybe with 5,000 fans I could see it’s a bit of an income you’re going to lose, but 200 fans, is it really?
“Maybe they have to start doing a test on crowds at some point and I’ve heard people say they’re treating the snooker event a little bit like lab rats – you’ve got to start somewhere, start with snooker players.
“Less insurance to pay out for Anthony Hamilton than there is for Lewis Hamilton.”
O’Sullivan says he has had friends die from Covid-19 and has not been within 20 feet of his mother, who is in the ‘high risk’ category because she had pneumonia last year.
“It’s not until you’ve had people close to you that have gone through it, and know someone who has died,” he said.
“I don’t think it has been taken seriously enough.”
The worst aspect of it, is that Anthony’s fears, and Ronnie’s views were vindicated as the “experiment” came to an end after just one day. It was deemed too risky by the UK government
If that premature, reckless decision to allow a crowd in hadn’t been made, Anthony Hamilton would have been playing at the Crucible. He was the one ‘robbed” of a golden opportunity.
But Barry Hearn never apologised of course…
Statistics source: cuetracker.net