Build-up to the 2022 Masters – Change of guard?

The 2022 Masters starts today and here is the last “media” piece I have chosen to share, an article by the always excellent Phil Haigh, reflecting on the recent success of young, non British players and whether the long awaited “change of guard” is finally becoming a reality.

Here is is:

Snooker’s ‘changing of the guard’ will be given an acid test at the Masters

Yan Bingtao and Zhao Xintong
Yan Bingtao and Zhao Xintong will take on legends at Alexandra Palace (Pictures: Getty)

In the coming days we will see arguably the two brightest young talents in snooker take on two of the greatest to ever pick up a cue on one of the sport’s grandest stages. Is there really a changing of the guard on the baize? The Masters will help settle that debate.

Snooker has been edging further and further away from being a young man’s game in recent years, with six of the 16 men heading to the Masters in their forties and eight more having celebrated their 30th birthdays.

The only two of the 16 who might get asked for ID in the pub are defending champion Yan Bingtao, 21, and reigning UK champion Zhao Xintong 24; the young Chinese stars that caused big upsets over the last year to claim two of the sport’s greatest titles.

Thanks to their success, and the recent superb form of 26-year-old Belgian star Luca Brecel, there has been talk that the balance is finally starting to tip back towards the younger generation and away from the veterans that have dominated the upper echelons of the rankings for 25 years.

Two of those men wait for Yan and Zhao at Alexandra Palace, with the Masters champ taking on Mark Williams and the UK king facing John Higgins.

Yan won his Masters title behind closed doors in Milton Keynes last year and will be entering an entirely different atmosphere in front of a full and rowdy Ally Pally on Sunday as defending champion.

Will the Tiger earn his stripes once again by overcoming that pressure against the wiliest of old foxes? Williams will not bat an eyelid at the big stage – hopefully he won’t close them all together again – and having won his 24th ranking title this season he still has the quality to beat anyone at 46 years old.

Four-time world champ Higgins is the same age as the Welshman and has been in even better form, despite not lifting any silverware since the Players Championship in February.

The Wizard of Wishaw has been to four finals already this season, and although he has lost them all, his level of consistency has been remarkable.

Zhao has been anything but consistent in his career so far, with the Cyclone storming to victory at the UK almost completely out of nowhere, competing in and winning the only final he has ever played in.

If he can topple the Wizard at Alexandra Palace then the Cyclone will look a lot more like a lasting disaster for the other top players rather than a brief but destructive gust through York.

The third, and most famous, member of the Class of 92 also faces the challenge of a younger man on his way up in the game rather than down, but one that is more illustrative of the lack of guard changing on the baize in recent years.

Jack Lisowski has the task of downing Ronnie O’Sullivan at the Masters, something that would go down as one of the most significant wins of his career so far, despite that career already lasting over a decade.

Betfred World Snooker Championship - Day Nine
Jack Lisowski is still working to fulfil his immense potential (Picture: Getty Images)

At 30, Jackpot is still seen as one of the exciting young players in the sport yet to claim a ranking title, but with most pundits expecting one or many more to come.

Rarely in sport would someone in their fourth decade be viewed as a youthful hopeful, but such has been the lack of teenage talent in recent years that the likes of Lisowski, Judd Trump and Kyren Wilson have held onto their ‘young player’ tags far longer than they should have.

The emergence of Yan and Zhao should finally remove the label of youth from their elders, but they will have to start beating the seasoned campaigners on a regular basis for a changing of the guard to really take hold.

WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson does not think we are seeing that change just yet, with the veterans still too good and the next big wave of talent not quite ready to take over.

I think we’ve got a while yet,’ Ferguson told Metro.co.uk. ‘I don’t think we’re quite there yet, but it is coming.

I always look back over the years, people saying, “This game’s finished when Alex Higgins finishes” and then Jimmy White came along. Then the same thing about Jimmy stopping but Ronnie O’Sullivan came along.

Ronnie O'Sullivan gettyimages-1313835458
Ronnie O’Sullivan is still going strong at 46, winning the World Grand Prix in December (Picture: Getty Images)

There’ll always be new stars and new talent coming through and it is coming. There are young players coming through but I think the next big wave is a little bit young at the moment.

I think what I see in snooker is how people’s minds mature and become so mentally strong over a long period of time. John Higgins is just incredible, mentally unbelievable. Mark Williams has still got incredible timing, incredible delicate touch, they’re just not showing any age at all.

I think they’ve got a few years yet, these boys, but they aren’t going to be around forever.’

Former world champion Shaun Murphy, who turns 40 this year, is also not sure about any guard changing just yet, and doesn’t think it will come until the fabled trio of O’Sullivan, Higgins and Williams put away their cues for good.

I think that’s something I hear quite a lot when you see newer players coming through,’ Murphy told Metro.co.uk.

Shaun Murphy
Murphy is far from convinced about any guard changing just yet (Picture: Getty Images)

‘”Changing of the guard” has been said for donkey’s years. I’m not sure the guard will fully have changed until the Class of 92 will leave the rest of us alone.

When are they going to retire?’ Murphy laughed. ‘Can we throw a big party for them? I feel like they’ve outstayed their welcome, can we get them a nice carriage clock or something?

I’m not sure the guard will have changed fully until those guys leave. But it’s great for the game when somebody like Luca Brecel starts showing his full potential, obviously Xintong winning the UK is massive for the sport, not just for him, but in terms of growth in other parts of the world.

If we weren’t in a pandemic, I’m sure we’d have seen an explosion of interest again in the Far East. Hopefully that momentum will last when we come out of what has been a terrible two years.

The Magician knows as well as anyone how tricky it is to play the likes of Williams and Higgins on the big stages, but he has seen what Zhao can do, not just at the UK Championship, but this week at the Championship League when he played eight matches and won the lot.

Murphy won the UK himself back in 2008 and knows just how good Zhao will be feeling going into the sternest of tests against Higgins at Ally Pally.

That’s the acid test, two of the best players of all time will put these two lads through their paces and we’ll get to see,’ said Murphy.

If the way Xintong has started this year is anything to go by, in the Championship League, then it looks like there’s more of the same to come.

When you win a big tournament like the UK you feel like you’re walking on water, you can clear up from anywhere, nothing’s beyond your reach. I hope he rides that wave for as long as he possibly can because eventually that momentum will end, so I hope he enjoys it because it’s a very special feeling.

It will be another very special feeling for the hugely talented twenty-somethings if they can oust the legends from the Palace and start to convince a few more people that a change really is coming.

The Masters first round draw and schedule

Sunday 9 January
1pm: Yan Bingtao vs Mark Williams
7pm: Neil Robertson vs Anthony McGill

Monday 10 January
1pm: John Higgins vs Luca Brecel/Zhao Xintong
7pm: Shaun Murphy vs Barry Hawkins

Tuesday 11 January
1pm: Ronnie O’Sullivan vs Jack Lisowski
7pm: Mark Selby vs Stephen Maguire

Wednesday 12 January
1pm: Judd Trump vs Mark Allen
7pm: Kyren Wilson vs Stuart Bingham

Well, I do think that something IS happening here and now. For years there have been talks about brilliant young prospects, nearly all of them British or Irish, but none of them have delivered despite being massively favoured by the UK centric structure of the main tour.  But now we are in a situation where two out of three of the “Majors”, two out of three of the “Triple Crowns” are held by young Chinese players.

The last UK Championship final was competed between two young players: Zhao is 24, Luca is 26. We have to go back to 2011 to have another UK final competed between two under-30 players, and for the first time in the long and prestigious history of the event, none of te finalists was British/Irish. 

We have a similar situation with the Masters. The only ever Masters final competed between two non British/Irish players dates back to 2011, when Ding Junhui beat Marc Fu, and to find a Masters Final competed between two under-30 players we have to go back in time as far as 2012, when Neil Robertson defeated Shaun Murphy.

Early 2011 was also the only time before now when two of the “Triple Crowns” where held by non British/Irish players, with Neil Robertson being the reigning World Champion and Ding being the Masters Champion.

Ding’s successes inspired a new generation of young Chinese players, but his “status” as a national icon in China has also held them back for a long timeI feel but this is changing now.

So, signs are there that it’s “coming” indeed and what happened in York in December is exceptional… for now. Is it an “anomaly”? A “one-off” ? Or is it a sign of things to come? I believe and hope it’s the latter.

Time will tell.

An Award for Ronnie …

This is rather late news and it didn’t really get a lot of publicity. Actually, it’s only thanks to Silvry that this hit this site.

Ronnie got an award, earlier this month…

21thCenturyAwards2021CompetitiveSportsAward2021

He was competing in the Scottish  Open at the time and sent them video message to thank them. It’s on youtube and is/was on Ronnie’s Instagram.

I have to admit that I had never heard about this organisation before, or how they choose and proceed to select their nominees, but it’s nice all the same.

This is how they describe Ronnie’s award:

Competitive Sports Award

This award is for someone who has demonstrated tremendous belief, focus and determination to reach the pinnacle of sporting glory. This may also be someone who has set up an entity that manages fosters or facilitates sports or involved in a sports league.

This is their website.

And their Instagram page.

 

Ronnie speaks with Hector Nunns about Work Ethics

Ronnie will play in the World Grand Prix this afternoon. He will face Andy Hicks, a player who turned professional in 1991, and reached the semi-finals in all four BBC tournaments in the 90th: the 1995 World Championship, the 1996 Masters, the 1995 UK Championship and the 1994 Grand Prix. Andy is here this week largely thanks to a run to the QFs in the recent UK Championship. To get that far he had beaten David Gilbert in the last 16. He can play.

Ahead of this event, Ronnie has been talking to Hector Nunns.

Grafter Not Genius: Ronnie O‘Sullivan Reckons His Work Ethic Is Often Overlooked

Ronnie O’Sullivan reckons he is more grafter than genius – and that his dedication and commitment to the hard yards on the practice table is sometimes overlooked.

And the Rocket also insists that his competitive instincts would have seen him get to the top level in another sport if things had not worked out so well for him in snooker.

Six-time world champion O’Sullivan, 46, is regularly hailed as the greatest player ever to pick up a cue, and praised for his natural talent that can make a difficult sport look almost effortless. But the holder of many of the game’s records, including most Triple Crown and ranking-event wins and also 147 maximum breaks and centuries, says most of it is down to hard work.

World No3 O’Sullivan, also a regular pundit for Eurosport, said: “I do think the hard work and graft I have out in over 35 years does get overlooked sometimes. You just hear the comments about natural talent.

But ask Anthony Hamilton about me or anyone that has practised in the same facility as me and they will tell you about my work ethic.
Listen it’s lovely if people say ‘Ronnie is a genius’, that’s nice they speak about you in those terms. But when they say ‘It’s okay for him, he’s just got the talent’ that bothers me.

It isn’t just me getting out of bed for 30 years and winning titles, there is so much practice for up to eight hours a day.

And I don’t care who you are, Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Lionel Messi at their peak -they have won what they have won by doing the hard yards in practice.

If things hadn’t worked out in snooker for me and I hadn’t been quite good enough to make a living from it, I am sure I would have been a sportsman in some other way.

The competitive animal in me and also the desire to put in the hours of training and dedication would have found a home somewhere.

Maybe if I had got into a car as a kid, then I could have been Formula One world champion! Be a Schumacher or whoever else, as I love that. And I like to think that whatever other sport I would have chosen I would have done very well at it.

I look at some snooker players who have done well without that much talent but they have really applied themselves. And I’d like to think I could have done that at something like golf.

I wouldn’t have had anywhere the talent of the best players, but maybe enough to make the top ten through hard work.

I watch a lot of sport. Many of those earning a decent living are not that good in terms of raw talent. I think most people could be a professional sportsman with some real time and effort. But part of me thinks if you can play one ball sport, you can probably play most of them with training.

O’Sullivan has also never been afraid to dabble in the political arena, having in the past supported and spent time with Ed Miliband when he was leader of the Labour Party ahead of the 2015 general election, and backed Jeremy Corbyn in the 2017 national poll.

And with the Prime Minister Boris Johnson under pressure on various fronts, he has given his less-than-flattering opinion on the current incumbent of No10.
O’Sullivan added: “The world is a strange place at the moment. America had Donald Trump for a few years and that put them in a spin. We had Corbyn come along and tried to rebalance things here, that was good in many ways because it got people talking about some of the issues.

And we have ended up with Boris who may be a nice guy – but he is just funny and a bit of a joke. You can’t really take him seriously. As a backbencher and someone you roll out every now and again he was funny. But seeing him in that situation as Prime Minister, you just laugh.

And politics isn’t a laughing game. Maybe we need another Tony Blair. I watched the documentary about him and Gordon Brown recently. They came in at a different angle and knew the mood of the people. They were better times for the country and so we need a serious person at the top who also has some charisma. Those people are not easy to find.”

Back on the table O’Sullivan will be in action in Coventry at the Ricoh Arena in the World Grand Prix following on from the Scottish Open in Llandudno. The Grand Prix is reserved for the 32 best-performing players of the season to date, and that means Chinese sensation and new UK champion Zhao Xintong will be the No1 seed.

Anthony Hamilton did indeed speak highly of Ronnie’s work ethics in a recent interview with Phil Haigh and Nick Metcalfe.

I can understand Ronnie’s frustration at people – including some commentators/pundits – who seem to think that he only has to “turn up and try” to be certain to win, so when he doesn’t win it’s because he allegedly doesn’t try. It’s not that way. There are a lot of very good players on the tour, players who can beat anyone on their day, especially in short matches.

To his own admission, Ronnie has taken a more relaxed approach to the game after his 6th World title in 2020 and he has paid the price in terms of results. In the last weeks he has applied himself but it hasn’t translated into big wins so far.

He’s 46 and, again to his own admission, recovering after big matches takes more time than it used to take. It’s normal. Also, Ronnie has never been the most confident person, and he certainly isn’t confident right now.

Ronnie may or may not come good at one point later this season, or the next, only time will tell. Ronnie had a lean two and a half years spell between 2009 and 2012. He has since won 15 more ranking titles including three World titles. People were writing him off, he proved then wrong, big time. Of course, he was younger then. At 46, it will be more difficult, it may not happen at all, but I refuse to write him off just yet. It’s too early.

We have a commentator on this site who has come up with systematic negativity and complete disrespect for the ability of the vast majority of the other professionals. I have removed one of their post because it was plain insulting to one of Ronnie’s rivals. I have answered the others, but won’t do that anymore: I have said all I have to say here. I’m not feeding trolls.

As for the “gifted” versus “hard work” debate, my view is simple: if you are “gifted” but don’t work hard enough you will never achieve your full potential, if you are not “gifted” you will never go very far no matter how hard you work. And remember, we are all “gifted” at some things and not “gifted” at other things.

 

 

 

Interesting interview with Mark Williams by Phil Haigh

Mark Williams is a character … and very much a no-nonsense down-to-earth guy.

He has been speaking to Phil Haigh:

Mark Williams talks changing the tour, break-offs, gout and the only matches that have ever annoyed him

Betfred World Snooker Championship - Day Five
Mark Williams is rarely flustered, but it can be done (Picture: Getty Images)

Famously relaxed about winning or losing snooker matches, Mark Williams can only think of two defeats in his entire career that have wound him up, although there are other things in the game that grind the Welshman’s gears.

At 46-years-old the three-time world champion is still competing at the top of the sport, winning the British Open this season and taking his ranking title tally to 24 in the process.

He’s back in action next week at the Champion of Champions as he looks to add that title to his collection, but he will be trying to see-off both Covid and gout when he does so.

Missing the English Open and European Masters due to a positive test, Williams has been struggling with the virus, and although he’s on the mend, his old foe gout is threatening to strike again.

‘I’m a bit better now,’ Williams told Metro.co.uk of his Covid struggles. ‘Taste is coming back slowly. I was in bed for five or six days shivering.

‘Hopefully I’ll be alright by Tuesday [when he takes on Neil Robertson], fingers crossed. If it was last week I’d have had it.

‘I think the gout is coming back! I’m taking these tablets again. Normally you get it, can’t walk and take these tablets for two or three days and it’s gone then. I’ve just felt my ankle going again so I’ve started taking the tablets just in case.

‘They say to try to eat healthier, but I went vegetarian for two or three weeks before I got it, so that’s weird. I’m back on the meat now. They said don’t drink too much alcohol but I don’t really drink that much now. I don’t want it again because it kills.’

Illness and injury have struck at an irritating time for the Welsh Potting Machine after some impressive early-season form, having also been in good nick at the back end of the last campaign as he won the WST Pro Series and made the Crucible quarter-finals.

‘I won one [title] last year, one this year, I’m playing really good as well,’ he said. ‘I’ve been unlucky to get gout and Covid at the time when I’m playing some really good stuff.

‘Even with gout I was one ball away from beating John Higgins 4-0 [at the Northern Ireland Open], which I should have won to go into the quarters and then who knows?

‘I’ve missed two tournaments because of Covid when I had some good momentum and now I’ve got to start from scratch and get that momentum back. It’s a weird one.’

Betfred World Snooker Championship - Day Twelve
Williams reached a 10th World Championship quarter-final this year (Picture: Getty Images)

Williams always says that losing doesn’t bother him in the slightest and even being 3-0 up on his old rival Higgins in Belfast before losing 4-3 didn’t fluster him.

‘Honestly, I missed a straight red to win 4-0,’ he said. ‘Red and black, it was easy. Lost, shook his hand.

‘I don’t know why people don’t believe me, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. The commentators going, “Oh that’ll hurt for a while.” Hurt what? How can you hurt? You’ve just lost a snooker game, man, for goodness’ sake.’

Having turned professional in 1992 it seems unconceivable that Williams can have literally never been annoyed by a defeat and when pushed he could recall one or two examples of being ‘cheesed off’.

‘The only one that sticks in my mind, I lost to Ali Carter in the UK, I think it was in Telford [2008 quarter-final]. It was 8-8, I was in the balls and I had the biggest kick on a red to win 9-8 and missed it,’ Williams explained.

‘That was the only match that I can remember driving home and I don’t think I spoke to my mate Matthew all the way home. I drove home at ridiculous speeds.

Betfred World Snooker Championship - Day Seven
Williams is fifth on the all-time list or ranking title winners (Picture: Getty Images)

‘The next morning I was still pissed off. That’s the only match I can really remember in 30 years that I’ve been cheesed off.

‘Maybe there were one or two more, but I can’t remember them. Wait, one has come to me, playing Paul Davison, 4-4, to qualify for one event last season [German Masters].

‘He fouled the yellow, I was sat behind him and it was blatant. I told the ref he’d hit the yellow there. She said, “how do you know?” Well I was sat right behind it. I asked if they could check and they said no. I was a bit cheesed off on that one, but just because of the way it happened.

‘He come up to me probably weeks after and apologised, said it was a foul but he didn’t see it at the time because he was swerving, something like that. It’s long gone by then. If he’d have said straight afterwards I’d have, you know, said something. Losing makes no difference to me, but it was blatant.

‘I couldn’t argue much because if the referee hadn’t seen it, they hadn’t seen it. That was a rare occasion though, it’s not many games over a 30-year career to get upset about.’

Asked if this is the experience of a grizzled veteran coming into play or just his natural persona, Williams said: ‘I’ve always had that attitude.

‘There’s no one that will try any harder than me when I’m playing. But as soon as it’s over I’ll shake hands and that’s it.’

It’s difficult to bother Mark on the snooker table, but he would like to see changes off the baize, suggesting a cut to the number of professional players on tour and ideally some prize money for first round losers.

With amateur top-up players competing in every event and first rounds losers walking away with nothing but bills, Williams would prefer a smaller, more sustainable pro tour.

‘Don’t get me started on the top-ups,’ he said. ‘If you lose in the last round of Q School you’ve got the best of both worlds. Every pro event, every amateur, if you’re over 40 all of the Seniors as well. How is that fair?

‘I think it would be better, if you need top-ups, go off the Q School list but they only get one event. You can’t have people coming in as top-ups at every event, knocking professionals out who are trying to earn a living. In my opinion they shouldn’t be in it if they don’t get through Q School. They can have one event. It might just be me but I don’t think that’s fair.

‘There must be well over half the tour who are skint. You’ve got to get to the latter stages to earn good money and there’s not many players that do that. It’s normally the same ones every time, so it’s very difficult to earn a living.

‘You never get 128 players at an event anyway, so I’d cut the tour because it’s too big, not sure to what number. Once you get on the tour hopefully everyone would be able to earn a living, including paying the first round losers.

‘The incentive is to get on tour and once you’re on the world professional tour you should be guaranteed a living. You don’t have to worry about losing. It’ll be harder to get on but it could be possible for everyone to be on a living then.’

Evergrande 2019 World Snooker China Championship - Day 6
Williams wants fewer pro players on the main tour (Picture: Getty Images)

Even with the full 128 players the current tour holds, Williams can’t see why a slight restructure couldn’t be made to offer prize money in the first round.

‘Would there be any harm in, say, first round of the UK Championship, it’s £6,500, change it to £5,000 and the loser gets £1,500? I’d prefer it that way. It takes a lot of pressure off the lower-ranked boys.

‘I don’t understand why they don’t do it, it seems easy. World Championship it’s £10,000 or nothing. What’s the harm in £7,000 and £,3000 or £8,000 and £2000, there must be a reason or they’d have done it.

‘I don’t see how it’s a reward to someone just helping them pay the bills. But I do think the tour is too big, when was the last time we didn’t have top-ups in an event?’

One thing Williams has changed himself in recent years is the way he breaks-off in frames, choosing to roll into the pack of reds off the top cushion rather than the traditional break.

There were calls to ban the defensive shot at first, and even an email to players asking if it should be allowed, before a number of those players saw the benefit of it and copied the move, which entertained the Welshman.

‘I was [laughing] because I thought it was pathetic we had an email about banning it,’ said Mark. ‘I ain’t done nothing wrong.

‘Then John Higgins done it, Ronnie O’Sullivan done it, 10 or more of them were doing it. You’ll soon get sick of leaving a long red!

‘I don’t do it as much now, but if the table’s playing so you can’t get behind the green, I go back to rolling into the bunch. It’s just a break-off, you know, pfft. Ban the break-off!

‘Who was it? I broke off like that and he had the hump, you could tell on his face. I can’t remember who it was but I beat him 4-0. If it annoys people it makes you want to do it more. The more people talked about banning it the more I was doing it.

‘You can’t tell Ronnie not to smash the pack. They were trying to ban my break off, I haven’t had an email off World Snooker yet about smashing the pack. They must be happy with that one.’

Williams is certainly open to change in the game, backing Judd Trump’s calls to modernise the dress code and look at the possibility of staging the World Championship somewhere other than the Crucible.

‘I always thought one day they’d move from there, that it would outgrow the Crucible,’ said Mark.

‘I can see why people think it’s good with the tradition, which it is. But I just think it’s that big a tournament it could generate more money if you spread it around, like the [FIFA] World Cup.

‘Even if it did go from there, the Crucible would have to have a tournament because when it gets down to one table it’s one of the best venues you can play in.’

World Snooker Championship - Media Day
Most want the World Championship to stay in Sheffield but there are some calls for a move (Picture: Getty Images )

On snooker’s dress code, the veteran is happy for change to come to try and attract a younger generation, although admits that players should not be left up to their own devices.

‘I read what Judd said and I think he’s pretty much spot on,’ said Williams. ‘Look, I’m coming to the end of my career, whether you play in t-shirts, Dickie Bows or a pair of shorts, it doesn’t really make any difference to me, I couldn’t care less. But what he’s saying to get younger people involved, he’s got a fair point.

‘The younger players, they don’t want to see Judd Trump wearing a Dickie Bow, they’d rather see him wear his own clothes or whatever. It gives you your own identity I suppose. We’ve got to attract youngsters very quick because what I’m seeing, the amateur game, it’s not in a great state at the moment.

‘We get a few kids in [at my club] but nothing compared to when I used to go in when I was a kid. The Welsh junior tournaments, oh my God, you’d have loads of entries, now I’m hearing it’s five and six entries for junior tournaments. That’s worrying. But it’s hard to get people in snooker clubs now, playing X-boxes and outside playing football, it’s difficult.

‘I don’t think the Shoot Out t-shirts look bad, I think they look quite smart. I suppose it’s dodgy telling people they can wear their own clothes, I’m not the smartest I’d probably turn up in a pair of tracksuits.’

It will come to no surprise to those who read this blog regularly that I completely agree with Mark about the size of the tour, the top-ups and and money for the first-round losers. I know that I’m in a minority, but I’d rather have walk-overs for the top seeds than top-ups.

The break-off saga was pathetic indeed. It’s a perfectly legal shot, one that I have seen played by Steve Davis several times years ago in the Premier League, of all events. What I find interesting is the bit about conditions and not being able to get behind the green. Every single time, Mark or Ronnie play that shot, if Joe Johnson and/or John Virgo are in the commentary box they go: “He wanted to be glued on the cushion there, but he got second prize there …”.  Nope…

Regarding the dress code, Mark has enough common sense to know that we need a dress code of sorts. Enough players manage to look scruffy even in a waistcoat and bow-tie… I don’t want to know how some would look if left on their own devices entirely.

It’s also no surprise to hear that Mark is open to a move from the Crucible. He was fined in 2012 for making “derogatory” comments about the venue. I was in the media room that year at the World Championship and  Mark’s first post-match was eagerly anticipated. Actually most of the media had a lot of sympathy for Mark … and booed him jokingly when he entered the press room. Back then, Mark explained why, despite the refurbishments, he thought that the Crucible is an inadequate venue. There isn’t much space in there, and it’s not just the arena. The BBC studio was right next the practice area, with just curtains separating them. The dressing rooms are small and only a few are on the same floor as the tournament office and have a shower in them. When a session over-runs or if a player is detained by the BBC or the media after their match, they may not be able to vacate the dressing room in time for the next occupant. There is not much space for the sponsors either.

And finally, of course, he’s concerned about the state of the game. Numbers matter and if snooker fails to attract more youngsters, it’s doomed. That said, I’m far from certain that just a change of the dress code will do the trick. The truth is that snooker is a difficult game, it takes a long time, hard work and dedication to learn it properly. This goes against the current cultural/societal trends and no gimmick will make it easy.

 

 

Ronnie’s big interview ahead of the 2021 English Open – Part 4

This last part of Ronnie’s big interview is about “snooker politics”

RONNIE O’SULLIVAN ON ‘CAR CRASH’ POLITICS IN SPORT – ‘SNOOKER BECAME A BIT TOXIC IN MANY WAYS’

“I emotionally untangled myself from the sport probably 10 years ago, in many ways, and I just made snooker work for me,” O’Sullivan told Eurosport in a special extended interview ahead of the English Open. “I hear a lot of the bottom-ranked players complaining about various things, and the top-ranked players complaining about things; like I said, I feel like snooker became a bit toxic.”

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Ronnie O’Sullivan has opened up about how he felt that ‘snooker became a bit toxic in many ways’ and the level of involvement he now wants to have within the sport.

The 45-year-old, who would love to win a seventh world title in his illustrious career, has spoken candidly about his frustrations with getting involved in the politics of the sport and his current detachment from it.

In 2018, O’Sullivan claimed that he was “ready to go” to form a breakaway “Champions League-style” snooker tour after he said he was unhappy with the number of events on the regular calendar and the travelling required.

Despite saying that he wanted to make positive changes at one point, The Rocket has said that he “emotionally untangled myself from the sport”, and is now happy with just doing his own thing.

To be honest, I emotionally untangled myself from the sport probably 10 years ago, in many ways, and I just made snooker work for me,” O’Sullivan told Eurosport in a special extended interview ahead of the English Open.

There was a time where I thought things could be done differently and would be beneficial to everybody on the tour. But when you never got the support of your other players, I just kind of went, ‘You know what, it’s never going to happen‘.

SO NOW, WHEN I HEAR A LOT OF THE BOTTOM-RANKED PLAYERS COMPLAINING ABOUT VARIOUS THINGS, AND THE TOP-RANKED PLAYERS COMPLAINING ABOUT THINGS; LIKE I SAID, I FEEL LIKE SNOOKER BECAME A BIT TOXIC IN MANY WAYS.

O’Sullivan conceded that, while he wanted to make changes, he did not feel as though he could do what he wanted and so has decided to simply see playing snooker as his “hobby” and “as fun”.

There was no unity and we all couldn’t try and get what’s right for all the players,” he said. “So I decided to kind of like disentangle myself from snooker, and it’s better that sort of way because now I do all my other stuff with all my sponsors and that’s all great.

I kind of see that as what I do for a living, if you like, and I enjoy to do that, and I just play snooker as a hobby, as fun. I enjoy playing, but by doing that I don’t want to have an opinion.

I don’t want to feel like this can be changed and, in many ways – and it’s probably not good thing – I hope it actually sometimes gets worse, because I think sometimes you can see the car crash happening. But unless people want to sort of unite, I suppose in many ways, then the car crash will just keep on continuing to happen.

I’d rather not be emotionally involved in that, because I’ve got the utmost respect for any snooker player that plays on the tour, and you’re just fighting for them in many ways. But at some point you’ve kind of got to go, ‘It’s not working, I’m better off just being quite tunnel vision about what’s right for me and doing what’s right for me, and just taking the best bits from it’.

I’ve never been so happy, really, because I love snooker and I love playing, but it wouldn’t be good for me to get involved in the politics or even having an opinion on what I think would be good for the game because it’s pretty pointless, really.”

So, Ronnie is disillusioned about “snooker politics”. Surely he’s not alone. In the past he has often spoken against the views of the governing body, and been accused of “hurting” his sport. He has not always been right, but he has not always been wrong either, far from it. Some fans are convinced that he hates his sport, and he has said that he hates snooker a number of times in the past. But then, he has suffered, still suffers,  from mood swings and severe bouts of depression and I guess that when he is in the middle of a “low” he probably hates everything about his life…

The truth however is that he loves his sport, as Alan McManus explained during his interview with Phil Haigh and Nick Metcalfe:

Alan McManus reveals the side of Ronnie O’Sullivan he’s ‘lucky to see’ behind the scenes

SmilingRonnie
Ronnie O’Sullivan (Picture: Getty Images)

Alan McManus has the pleasure of working with Ronnie O’Sullivan in their roles as television pundits, and while the Scot knows when to ‘back off and not engage’ he says he is lucky to see the Rocket hugely passionate about the game he loves.

McManus and O’Sullivan were colleagues in the Eurosport studio at the Northern Ireland Open in Belfast earlier this month after the Rocket was beaten by Yan Bingtao in the last 16.

Earlier in the tournament O’Sullivan had criticised the atmosphere at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast, saying he was ‘very bored’ and he ‘wasn’t really bothered he he won or lost,’ after beating Andy Hicks in round two.

Angles says that when the six-time world champion is in that kind of mood, he chooses to just leave him to it, although he then gets to see the other side of O’Sullivan later in the event.

The Rocket went from downbeat to quite perky after he was eliminated from the tournament and McManus had a great experience with him as they watched the climax of the event.

McManus told the Talking Snooker podcast: ‘Sometimes, I think if he’s in that sort of mood and he doesn’t want to engage in a positive way about the snooker or whatever he’s talking about, I just think, “I’ll back off and not engage with him.”

If he doesn’t want to talk about it he’s not gonna.

The flip side of that, of course, is when he’s really up for it. I’ll say this…later in the week, Ronnie had lost, so he had a couple of days in the studio.

We were watching the matches and he’s into it, he loves it. John [Higgins] was doing some special things and he was loving it, he loves the game.

‘I’m lucky I get to see that side of things and he really loves it.

McManus also enjoyed O’Sullivan’s humble side, surprised to see the 37-time ranking event winner asking how players pulled off shots that surely he could also manage.

We sit and have a laugh when somebody plays a good shot. It’s actually ridiculous because he’s rolling about laughing after a good shot, going: “How did he do that?

World Snooker Championship - Day 14
Alan McManus (Picture: Getty Images)

But you think, well…oh, it doesn’t matter Ronnie. But he’s a snooker fan. He’s engaging, he can be a bit up and down, but who can’t in other ways?

Ronnie chooses to be a bit up and down in press things or on camera or whatever but at the end of the day he’s a big snooker fan and he loves it, and why not? He’s quite good.

He’s a good guy, he’s alright, you know. I really like him.’

 

Ronnie’s big interview ahead of the 2021 English Open – Part 3

Ronnie spoke to Eurosport about who is currently at the top of the sport and where the “class of 92” now stands

RONNIE O’SULLIVAN: ‘LIKE ROGER FEDERER AND RAFAEL NADAL’ – THE ROCKET ON THE ‘TWO DIVISIONS’ IN SNOOKER ELITE

“I would probably narrow it down into maybe two divisions now,” O’Sullivan told Eurosport in a special extended interview ahead of the English Open. “I think you’d have to say Selby, Trump and possibly Robertson, you could say that they are the three strongest players. I think outside of that, then you put me, John Higgins and Mark Williams, just because of the age.”

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Ronnie O’Sullivan Image credit: Eurosport

Ronnie O’Sullivan has claimed that there are two divisions at the top of snooker’s elite and identified the big-name players who fit in each category.

The 45-year-old, who has six world titles to his name, had himself in the second division, along with fellow legends John Higgins and Mark Williams, while he said Judd Trump, Mark Selby and Neil Robertson were in the top tier.

The Rocket compared himself, Higgins and Williams to tennis greats Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in terms of still being able to compete at the top level despite no longer being in their prime years.

I would probably narrow it down into maybe two divisions now,” O’Sullivan told Eurosport in a special extended interview ahead of the English Open.
“I think you’d have to say Selby, Trump and possibly Robertson, you could say that they are the three strongest players. I think outside of that, then you put me, John Higgins and Mark Williams, just because of the age.

Because at my age now, if I win a tournament, or at least put my heart and soul into it, it takes me three or four days just to sort of recover again to be able to go again. Whereas maybe seven, eight years ago I could win the World Championship and then wake up the next day and think, ‘I could do that again’.

You know, and as you get older, you don’t have the powers of concentration or sustainability. So I think those three are in their prime and once you hit 43, 44 it gets a lot harder.

WE’VE KIND OF BEEN OKAY, BECAUSE WE CAME FROM THAT SPECIAL ERA WHERE, LIKE FEDERER AND NADAL, 70% IS STILL GOOD ENOUGH TO COMPETE.

I think that is what is getting us by at the moment, but I don’t know how much longer that can go on for.

So I think I would probably break that down into two divisions: Selby, Trump, Robertson – just because of their age, not because of their ability to play the game, but just that they’re able to concentrate and recover one match after another a lot better than say, me, Williams or Higgins would.

O’Sullivan also had his say on the tournaments that really matter to him and made it abundantly clear that the World Championship remains the pinnacle and worth “five mediocre events” in his mind.

The Triple Crowns, they are the three big tournaments, that is where the most pressure is. That is where the top players usually thrive and they never change, a bit like the Masters [golf], the four majors, you can always judge Jack Nicklaus with Tiger Woods because of the amount of majors.

JUDD WOULD SWAP – I KNOW HE WOULD SWAP – WITH SELBY BECAUSE THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP IS THE ONE THAT EVERYBODY WANTS TO WIN.  

There is of course a lot of truth in there… no matter what Judd Trump says.

Despite Ronnie’s perception that he is now in “second division”, Alan Mc Manus still rates him as the best player of all times.

Alan McManus names his top six snooker players of all time: ‘As far as the greatest, obviously Ronnie is’

Alan McManus at the Coral Northern Ireland Open 2016.
Alan McManus has picked out the best to ever play snooker (Picture: Getty Images)

Alan McManus feels that Ronnie O’Sullivan is ‘obviously’ the greatest snooker player of all time, but Stephen Hendry’s achievements should not be forgotten and they are unlikely to ever be repeated.

O’Sullivan is regularly named as the greatest player to ever pick up a cue, although there are still some votes from people in the sport for Hendry and John Higgins.

McManus is in the Rocket’s camp on this one, but is blown away by both his fellow Scots, who he feels come in at joint-second on his GOAT list.

Time’s a great healer of memory, people forget about Stephen and the things he did,’ McManus told the Talking Snooker podcast.

First of all, when’s the next time someone’s going to win the Masters at the first five goes? It’s easy to forget.

Who’s going to win the Crucible five times on the spin? Probably no one, it ain’t going to happen. But he did it and he did it because he was unbelievably good.

John’s a different kind of good, he’s got the whole package, technically he’s unbelievably good, but the other thing that John developed was the snooker brain, it’s like a chess Grand Master or a piano player, it just makes sense to him.

When you’ve got that technique and that bottle, there’s no weakness, he’s very difficult to handle.

As far as the greatest, obviously Ronnie is, I’d put Stephen and John almost shoulder-to-shoulder.’

Most ranking title wins

Ronnie O’Sullivan 37
Stephen Hendry 36
John Higgins 31
Steve Davis 28
Mark Williams 24
Judd Trump 22
Neil Robertson 20
Mark Selby 20
Ding Junhui 14

Angles was pretty clear on an O’Sullivan, Higgins and Hendry top three, and slotted in Steve Davis at number four fairly confidently, but struggled to split the two names he has battling for fifth spot.

For me…oo dear this is very difficult,’ said McManus on rounding off his top five. ‘I would say those three then Steve Davis has got to be in there, for many reasons I won’t go into.

Then probably Mark Selby and Mark Williams, one of those two.

Probably Mark Williams maybe, just because he’s been around longer but I don’t know. I’m sure that everyone of them are glad to be in the shake-up.

Mark Selby and Mark Williams at the Betfred World Snooker Championships.
Mark Selby beat Mark Williams en route to a fourth world title this year (Picture: Getty Images).

By ranking titles, Williams beats Selby by 24-20, but the Englishman has picked up four World Championship titles to the Welshman’s four.

Selby has also picked up one more Masters title than the Welsh Potting Machine, but longevity, of course, goes to Williams.

The veteran won his first ranking title at the Welsh Open in 1996 and his most recent one in August this year at the British Open.

The Jester from Leicester achieved up his first ranking triumph 12 years after Williams’ first, with his most recent coming at the Crucible in May when he won a fourth world title.

I know someone who isn’t probably too happy because he’s not even in the conversation…

Ronnie’s big interview ahead of the 2021 English Open – Part 2

Here is another topic discussed by Ronnie in his big interview, this time reported by Phil Haigh

Ronnie O’Sullivan claims nine-ball pool is his ‘little secret’ to snooker success

Ronnie O'Sullivan at the Betfred World Snooker Championship.
Ronnie O’Sullivan reckons an unlikely source has been behind some of his snooker success (Picture: Getty Images)

Ronnie O’Sullivan has revealed that playing pool is ‘a little secret’ behind some of his snooker success and has encouraged players of all cue sports to take up a variety of disciplines.

The Rocket has a bit of history with nine-ball pool, playing for Team Europe in the 1996 Mosconi Cup, and he says that the smaller table has helped him to his unprecedented levels of success in snooker.

The six-time world champion and 37-time ranking event winner says that pool practice is his ‘little secret’ to finding his best form on the snooker table, and hes explained why.

‘It is a little secret I let people in on, I actually played some of my best snooker because I played nine-ball pool,” O’Sullivan told Eurosport.

You are playing on a smaller table and trying to pot a ball over 12 foot is a lot – a long ball over 12 foot is quite a hard thing to do. But when you get an a pool table, you start potting long balls on a nine-foot table, it’s just like, you stop fearing the long distance as much.

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O’Sullivan won a sixth World Snooker Championship title in 2020 (Picture: Getty Images)

In some ways, you have to use different techniques on the pool table, which you can then bring to the snooker table.

I think I learned a lot and played some of my best snooker through playing nine-ball pool.’

The 45-year-old has advised players of various cue sports to have a crack at other disciplines so they can develop their games most effectively.

I always think there is a good crossover between playing a bit of nine-ball pool, a bit of billiards and a bit of snooker. Because there are crossovers,’ he continued.

It’s like being a pool player, a lot of pool players would be better pool players, if they had played a bit more snooker because it would tighten their technique up a bit.

This is not so secret. Players of the past often played both billiards and snooker for instance, and some old-school coaches still advice the debutants to try themselves at billiards, as it’s a good way to learn how to control the cue ball, and how angles, spin and trajectories work. Some of Jimmy White’s signature shots are billiards shots.