News from the Snooker Planet – Week 5 at the 900, 2022 Scottish Open and Snooker Scene’s comeback

Week 5 at “The 900” concluded on Wednesday and there was more excitement and drama.

Here is what happened:

On Monday

Jamie Curtis-Barrett won day 1 beating Nigel Bond in the final.

On Tuesday

Lee Martin won day 2 beating Daniel Ward, Reanne Evans partner, in the final

On Wednesday

Philip Williams, who plays on the Seniors Tour regularly beat Patsy Fagan in the Final. It’s a remarkable achievement from Patsy, who is 71 years of age. Patsy was the winner of the inaugural UK Championship in 1977 … That was 45 years ago.

Here are some more images…

Ali Carter was in the studio … all smiles.

Wytech is a new sponsor for the series. The company belongs to Mark Jones, Hannah Jones’ father.

Next week we start again with this line-up:

Jason Francis also shared those two short videos on twitter

The Shirt is not impressed…
Richard Emery had to dash around the table…

2022 Scottish Open – Opening day schedule

This was published by WST:

Strong Field For Edinburgh’s Opening Day

Scotland’s top player John Higgins, World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump, Neil Robertson, Mark Selby, Mark Williams, Shaun Murphy and defending champion Luca Brecel will all be in action on the first day of the BetVictor Scottish Open in Edinburgh on Monday November 28.

Click here for the draw

Click here for the format

The tournament will be staged at the Meadowbank Sports Centre for the first time and it will be the first professional snooker event in Edinburgh since 2003. And fans can enjoy watching a stellar field of the world’s top stars. Key first round matches include:

Luca Brecel v Fraser Patrick on Monday November 28 at 10am
Judd Trump v Sanderson Lam on Monday November 28 at 1pm
John Higgins v Anthony Hamilton on Monday November 28 during the afternoon session 
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Bai Langning on Monday November 28 at 7pm
Neil Robertson v Mark Davis on Monday November 28 during the evening session
Kyren Wilson v three-time Women’s World Champion Ng On Yee on Tuesday November 29 during the afternoon session

In all there will be over 70 players in the field, including Scottish potters Stephen Maguire, Anthony McGill and Graeme Dott.

Four-time World Champion Higgins, who lost to Brecel in the final last year, said: “It’s brilliant news for the Scottish players as we have really missed the chance to play in our home tournament over the last couple of years. I think there’s a lot of support for snooker and a lot of people playing the game in Edinburgh. I would love to win it in front of my own fans.

And the great news of today… Snooker Scene is back, with Nick Metcalfe as the new editor

Seventh Heaven Tonight

Ronnie’s Eurosport documentary “Seventh Heaven” will be shown tonight.

Here is what WST published about it:

Ronnie O’Sullivan: Seventh Heaven

Seventh Heaven – premiering on 15 October at 8pm on discovery+ and Eurosport across Europe – documents the career of Ronnie O’Sullivan as he re-visits key moments, from bursting onto the scene at the 1993 World Championship as a 17-year-old, all the way to this year’s record-equalling seventh Crucible crown.

Eurosport pundit Alan McManus discusses many of those moments with O’Sullivan, including the fastest ever 147 break in 1997, and the shots he played left-handed against Alain Robidoux in 1996. In the same episode, the current world number one recalls the absence of his father during the early part of his career, which led to substance abuse and a period in rehab. O’Sullivan also reflects on the impact Dr Steve Peters has had on his career.

The second half of the film sees O’Sullivan return to the Crucible for the first time since May. The Rocket recalls memories of his multitude of victories in Sheffield, including this year’s emotionally-charged final with Judd Trump. He discusses his relationship with his children before taking stock of an incredible career that shows no sign of winding down.

Scott Young, SVP Content and Production at Warner Bros. Discovery Sports, saidThe release of Seventh Heaven on our platforms across Europe is the perfect way to whet the appetite of sports fans as the snooker season gets into full flow. With the help of our exclusive close relationship with Ronnie, combined with unseen footage, the two hour show offers an intriguing insight into one of sport’s most fascinating characters.

To be honest, I don’t expect that many new things to emerge from this documentary. Obviously some in the media have already watched the show as there has been plenty of articles out in recent days, tackling various aspects/moments in Ronnie’s career. Nothing really new or unexpected came out.

I will still watch it, of course I will.

.

Ronnie yesterday … bad day in office and good ideas

Ahead of his match yesterday, Ronnie looked in good mood and looking forward to play competitively again. It didn’t go to expectations. He was beaten by 4-1 by Alexander Ursenbacher … again

Here are the scores:

And the report by WST:

Swiss Bliss As Rocket Falls

Alexander Ursenbacher once again proved to be one of Ronnie O’Sullivan’s bogey players as the Swiss ace beat the World Champion 4-1 in the first round of the Cazoo British Open.

Switzerland’s top player Ursenbacher has now beaten O’Sullivan in all three of their ranking event matches – the other two coming at the 2019 Welsh Open and 2020 UK Championship. That’s a remarkable record for a player who won just three knockout matches in the whole of last season and remains in danger of relegation from the pro tour.

Ursenbacher’s mother Florenca surprised her son by making the trip to Milton Keynes to watch him play for the first time since his amateur days, and to her delight he rose to the occasion with a fine display against the reigning Crucible king and world number one. O’Sullivan’s attentions now turn to next week’s Hong Kong Masters.

Breaks of 69 and 45 helped Ursenbacher to a 2-0 lead. O’Sullivan pulled one back, and had a chance to clear from 58-7 behind in frame four, but missed the third last red to a top corner on 16. He was soon 3-1 behind, and world number 63 Ursenbacher wrapped up the result in the fifth with a run of 46.

I didn’t think my mum was ever going to come over and watch me because of her work schedule,” said Ursenbacher, who now meets Joe O’Connor in the last 64. “It surprised me when I saw her this morning, I was so happy and I thought there was no way I was going to give in tonight. I was really nervous all day, I was anxious and couldn’t eat. She’s the best mum you could wish for but that put pressure on me because I wanted to make her proud.

Against the best players, it’s the easiest way to push yourself. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want to play Ronnie. When I play him I just want to go for it, it’s the ultimate test because he’s the greatest player who has picked up a cue. I always give 100% against him. I just play how I feel and hopefully you will see more of that from me for the next 20 years.

I have lost weight recently. My cat died in April and that helped because I was so upset I couldn’t eat anything, then after that I didn’t put it back on.”

It’s hard to know why some top players struggle against certain opponents. The most famous example is of course Mark Johnston Allen who has a 100% career record over Stephen Hendry.

Stephen Hendry, in commentary, reflected that he had not seen Ronnie play that badly for years. “He was rubbish” was his assessment of Ronnie’s performance. And, truly, Ronnie was very poor, especially in the first two frames. He had no touch at all, overhit the balls and misjudged his safeties. The only positive is that he continued to try. To be honest, he didn’t play well over the week-end either. Having to rest his arm, he probably didn’t put the work in and it showed.

But it wasn’t all about Ronnie. Alexander played really well. He was extremely efficient and reliable when in the balls. He didn’t miss anything easy. He totally deserved the win, on merit.

Off the table, Ronnie came up with the suggestion that the Main Tour should better support the Women’s Tour, notably by funding it.

Here is what Ronnie had to say about that, as reported by the BBC:

It’s so wrong that World Snooker haven’t made it better for the girls,” O’Sullivan told BBC Sport.

Why can’t they just take 5% off the prize money and give the ladies a good opportunity to play in good conditions?

I think everyone would support it and back it. You don’t want to be having this conversation even in another two or three years, it should be something that’s done within the next two or three months.

Decisions can be made quickly and done quickly, and it’s important for the likes of Reanne [Evans] as well because they have been playing a long time and they deserve to have that opportunity.

About the Mixed Doubles he added

It shouldn’t be a special event for them, it should be normal,” said O’Sullivan.

I think the best thing World Snooker could do is make that happen. You see what it’s done for ladies’ football, I was more geed up watching the ladies play than I was the guys. The guys haven’t been able to get the job done but the girls showed them how to win.

It would be great for the girls to have that opportunity.

And more specifically about Reanne Evans

Reanne is a 12-times world champion, that’s some feat. At least let her make it a professional job where she doesn’t have to go out and do other things to make ends meet.

She’s devoted her life to this game, most people in her situation would have given up snooker but she hasn’t, she loves it.

To this WST responded

Our remit is to run the World Snooker Tour for the professional players, including the four women on the tour. 

We felt the Mixed Doubles event over the weekend was fantastic. We are proud of snooker’s inclusivity and to be one of the few sports where men and women can compete together.

But that’s missing the point. One of the reasons why women struggle so much when getting on tour is because they never play under professional conditions on the Women’s tour and almost all of them have a full time job because there is no money on the Women’s tour. They are also not welcomed in some – too many – clubs … unless behind the bar. It’s not by chance that two of the four who got on the main tour, are On Yee and Mink who both have access to excellent conditions when “at home”. On Yee has funding as well. Reanne was well supported by her family and was able to devote a lot of time to snooker. Most women never get such opportunities. It all highlights how remarkable Rebecca Kenna’s achievements are. She has a full time job. She experienced rejection when trying to play in her local leagues, when some clubs didn’t allow her to play some “fixtures” solely because of her gender. She persisted, worked hard and is now a pro. Last week-end, she showed real qualities. But she shouldn’t have had to go through what she did. It’s baffling that in 2022 there are still clubs that don’t allow women to play. Also too often, unwelcoming behaviours, mocking and sexual “teasing” are tolerated in clubs. I have experienced it myself… and I’m a grand-mother. I have witnessed it many times too. “it’s just banter” or “boys will be boys” are the usual justifications for not doing anything about it. If this was about race instead of gender people would be up in arms.

Neil Robertson supports Ronnie’s ideas as reported by Phil Haigh

I think the women have been brilliant this weekend,’ Robertson told The Metro. ‘Hopefully women’s sport can kick off, get some more sponsors, some more funding and they can start to play for really good prizes themselves. Even though the money is increasing, it is still very low so we want to see that increase.’

On O’Sullivan’s five per cent plan he added: ‘It wouldn’t bother me at all – I’m always up for stuff like that. I wouldn’t mind prize money coming off from the top and being filtered down elsewhere where the funds are maybe needed more.

The Coming Mixed Doubles Challenges As Seen By Reanne and Rebecca

Reanne Evans and Rebecca Kenna have shared their thoughts, expectations and emotions ahead of the coming Mixed Double event.

Rebecca, who has been practising with Mark Selby, spoke to WST:

Kenna Hopeful Primetime Slot Can Inspire Next Generation

Rebecca Kenna is hoping this month’s BetVictor World Mixed Doubles event in Milton Keynes can “inspire” a generation of young girls across the country to pick up a cue.

After a summer that saw England’s Lionesses roar, a historic first Tour de France Femmes click into gear and England’s hockey stars strike gold at the Commonwealth Games, snooker is ready to take centre stage.

For the first time, the four women on the World Snooker Tour will be playing live on ITV. The event also marks 40 years since the network broadcast the inaugural World Doubles Championship back in 1982.

It’s just so fantastic that it’s on the main ITV channel because I never saw any women playing snooker on TV growing up,” said Kenna. “If I’d have seen women playing in a mixed doubles event with the world’s top four, as a five-year-old, I would have gone, ‘wow, I want to do that now!’ It’s a great incentive to see us on there. Hopefully, it does inspire some young girls to become professional snooker players and get the chance to play alongside those greats on live TV.

There’s also going to be a great incentive to join the women’s tour and get into that top four. And you never know, it might grow to a top eight and top 16. The tour might grow hugely from this and get more sponsorship, more players, better quality. Everything can then go in the right direction.”

Kenna will partner four-time World Champion Mark Selby for the event, in what she described as a “perfect” duo. But it won’t be the first time she has played in a team. Born in Keighley, just outside of Bradford, Kenna regularly played at The Liberal Club as a young girl with her dad by her side. Now 33, she hopes to lean on these experiences.

My dad was actually a big fan of Mark Selby. He unfortunately passed away in 2015. So it would have been really nice for him to see this. But, I hope he’s watching somewhere,” she said.

We used to play at club level and we never got nervous playing. But when he played with me, he’d say, ‘I’m a bit nervous, I wanna play well for you.’ And I’d say, ‘just relax, there’s no point in being stressed about it.’ So there is no point putting pressure on yourself or anyone else because there are other pressures. People watching on TV, people watching at home and in the crowd. If you have any external pressures on your shot, you’re not going to play very well. You just need to relax and play your own game.

Kenna heads into the event with momentum. A run to the final at the recent US Women’s Open in Seattle saw the women’s world number four not drop a frame in six matches before coming unstuck in the final against Jamie Hunter, losing 4-1.

While Kenna admits she didn’t deserve anything other than finishing second in the final, she enjoyed the experience of playing Stateside.

I loved Seattle,” she said. “There was a really good quality stream, with a commentator. People watching could get involved and talk back to us, they even had some players on commentary. They did really well trying to advertise it over there and it grew some new interest. Hopefully, more clubs might start to put snooker tables in their areas and not just play pool. But it was a really good experience. I hope we can go back in the future.

Just over two weeks have passed since Kenna returned from across the pond. A quick scan of her internal to-do list and she remembers she needs to check in on her shop, Cue Sports Yorkshire. Amongst practising, securing another sponsor and picking up a new car, Kenna found the time to make the journey down the M1 to meet the Jester from Leicester himself.

For the tournament, the rules state each player will take alternate visits to the table, rather than alternate shots, and Kenna admits the tactical side of the game is something she and Selby have discussed.

We’re not going to overthink it with who’s following who,” said Kenna. “We’re just going to play our own game and hopefully do well. You’ve got to take your chances and play the right shots.

The four men are all legends. And obviously, we know that they can score so heavily. So it might be on my mind that I don’t want to leave anyone anything. I don’t want to give them a sniff, because that might be the end of the frame. So I’ll be trying to pick out the best shot to play. If I’m in, try score, and if there isn’t a shot on, try play the best safety I can.

Those first quotes by Bex are very significant. I have written this many times: snooker, like all sports, is a number game. Girls need to see women play on the big stages to be inspired. Exceptional talents are … exceptional. The chances to identify one in a small “population” – which “female snooker players” currently is – are extremely low. Get more girls to play, make them feel welcome and the standard will improve.

Reanne was interviewed WST as reported by Phil Haigh and admits to mixed emotions

‘Mixed emotions’ – Reanne Evans on partnering Ronnie O’Sullivan at World Mixed Doubles

Phil Haigh Thursday 15 Sep 2022

Ronnie O’Sullivan and Reanne Evans will be tough to beat at the World Mixed Doubles (Pictures: Getty)

Reanne Evans admits there were some mixed emotions when she was partnered with Ronnie O’Sullivan for the World Mixed Doubles as performing in front of the greatest player of all time brings some pressure with it.

The brand new tournament starts on 24 September and sees the top four male players in the world team with the top four female players, which has obviously produced some exciting pairings.

Judd Trump teams up with Ng On Yee, Neil Robertson is paired with Mink Nutcharut and Mark Selby partners Rebecca Kenna, but Ronnie and Reanne is undoubtedly the highest profile team.

Clearly Evans was delighted to be drawn alongside the current world champion and world number one, but she admits it does come with some pressure as well as she doesn’t want to let the Rocket down.

Mixed emotions,’ Evans told WST on being paired with O’Sullivan. ‘I was like, you’ve got the best player in the world, the best player ever to pick up a cue, in my eyes. But then you’ve also got to perform in front of him as well!

He’s a great guy and I’ve had the privilege to play with him and against him in Snooker Legends and exhibitions.

Hopefully it’ll make me a little bit more relaxed because I’ve been there and done it. Obviously not on TV in a proper match, but I’m looking forward to it and hopefully he is too.

Whoever Evans was paired with, the team element of snooker is very different to a normal match and it does pile the pressure on.

I used to play league competitions with a team, you’re not just playing for yourself, its a different mindset, a different pressure,’ she explained.

If I miss I’ve let myself down normally, but now I’ve let Ronnie down, let my team down It’s a mix of pressures and emotions. But I’m looking forward to it, it’s exciting and a really good format.

I’m just going to go out there and try and enjoy it as much as I can, then hopefully we can win the thing, but it’s a flip of a coin. Anyone can win it, so I’m just looking forward to it.’

An Impromptu Interview with Jason Francis

Before you read further … I wanted to know more about the 900, and Jason had agreed to give me an exclusive interview for my blogs. Jason and I have known each other for many years and, well … our conversation lead us onto other subjects dear to us both, the Seniors and his future endeavours. That wasn’t planned but here goes … and enjoy!

M: On Tuesday next week, 8 players will compete in the first instalment of the 900 series. What inspired you to start this series and how did you come up with the concept?

J: I’ve always aim to create events that I, as a snooker fan, would want to watch or play in. That’s the main priority, at the end of the day I am a snooker fan. So whether it be the Legends Cup, the re-spotted black deciders, the team events, the doubles… its all about entertainment. So I created the Amateur Snooker League in 2021, ASL, and we did a trial event… it wasn’t right. So I listened to some tv companies, I tried to understand what is important to them… and I created the 900.

M: The players competing in the series are invited. How did this work and what criteria guided your choices? 

J: So I always said from the start the first event should reward those who have supported all my other events, no apologies for that. So many amateurs have taken time out to travel and play in whatever event I put on, many probably with no realistic chance of winning that event, but they’ve followed me so when I got this on I stuck by that promise, while at the same time making sure we tried to access every top amateur snooker champion in the world.

M: Organising such series of events comes at a cost and there is prize money as well. How is this series funded?

J: If you truly believe in something sometimes you have to be willing to back it, you have to set a level of prize money that is attractive, eye catching to amateurs but at the same time sustainable. On every event I have ever staged there has been no guarantee of me making money, that’s life as a promoter and what a lot of people just don’t get. There are plenty of people who sit in salaried positions in both sports I am involved in who can make decisions without that having any personal risk… I wonder sometimes if they would be making those choices if it was their money?

M: It is an amateur only series. Why is that?

J: That’s because we are televised and the WST professionals are not permitted to play on television without permission from world snooker and of course the 900 will clash with so many of their events over the course of the next 9 weeks. So many pros have asked me to play in it, I’ve told them in the future go and get permission and I will gladly have them in but the event trying to get sanctions comes with too many other restrictions that get imposed, especially around ownership of international tv rights outside the host broadcast.

M: On social media, you hinted at a “Professionals’ 900” and a “Women’s 900” in the future. Regarding the professionals in particular, how will that be made possible? Will they not be in breach of their contract considering that those events are televised?

J: As above… if the prize money is right I can invite pros and then its up to them to go and get permission, its seems they can all go and play pool at the moment so if a ‘professionals’ week happened on a non WST event week then why would they not allow their players to earn money in a week where they can’t provide a tournament? I think it would be pretty cruel to stop players earning money if they are not staging an event. The women’s is very much the same as no tv women’s event would have credibility without the top 4. Let’s see.

M: Among the players you invited, there is a significant number of “Seniors” players. I suppose that they are particularly keen to get their cues out as, this season, there is only one major Seniors event, the World Championship. What happened there? 

J: The 900 has a mix of Legends, Top Amateurs, Seniors, Juniors, Women and WDBS, it’s the inclusion of all that I am so proud of being able to do. Very few of these would have been on tv much, some not at all. They deserve their chance. The Seniors situation is a bit more complicated

M: In the last couple of years, a number of your Legends have definitely retired (Cliff Thorburn, John Parrott, Dennis Taylor). How does that impact the Seniors Tour? I’m mainly thinking about the promotion of the events here.

J: It’s simple, you’ve lost 4 commercially valuable and attractive names.. and so far we don’t have 4 to fill the gap but just because they are not hitting balls it does not mean that they are not of use at the events in other ways. Commentary, hosting, corporate hospitality. It’s a he problem though and one I was talking about way before it happened.

M: Younger “Legends” appear to be keen on playing on the Seniors tour. Mark Williams in particular has recently expressed his interest on social media. Currently, being a top player he can’t. However you hinted at changes that would make it possible next season. What are those changes?

J: So the truth is back in October 2021 I presented a blueprint for the future of seniors to my board, the WPBSA players board and WPBSA board itself

It was very much around the point above that we were losing ‘marquee’ names and we were not replacing them. The current agreement with WST allows us to invite players over the age of 40 ranked 65 and below, in return Seniors agrees not to clash events or approach any sponsors or broadcasters they work with. 

The agreement was right at the time we signed it, it no longer really works for either side so since January we have been trying to work on a new agreement with them and to explore my blueprint which requested to open up invites to the whole tour, even if it meant raising the age to 45. 

I also suggested if that was not acceptable it could be limited to tv invites to former major winners. This would not have affected the opportunities for amateurs, or any WST pro who was not invited, as that allocation of places would have remained the same. 

But the benefits would have been huge and to me it was so simple. The value of being able to invite Ronnie, Mark, John, Ballrun for example, 4 world champions to a seniors event staged at a time when no WST event was on, the commercial value of that to a sponsor, to ticket sales, TV, to the tour in general would have been massive in my opinion… and could have increased prize money significantly. 

And I go back to my very first point about putting on events I would like to play in… imagine winning a club qualifier knowing the chance to play Ronnie or John Higgins live on tv in the crucible is the prize? 

Anyway sadly it didn’t work out but that should not be a criticism of WST as at this time they are in a huge period of transition with their own challenges to face so I understand supporting seniors is not a priority. Barry stepping back feels a bit like a team losing their captain, then Nigel retiring as well means a hugely experienced operator is lost to the team, then you add on Pete and Eugene retiring who fitted all the tables and it’s no surprise that Jason Francis wanting Mark Williams in his senior events becomes less important to them.

M: What happened to the Uk Seniors in Hull

J: Lots of people ask what has happened to Hull, our home of the Uk Seniors for the past 3 years. That is something that has disappointed me. I found out that WST had placed the Tour Championship there early next year while I was actually in the venue for my darts. I worked so hard on that event and with the council, the mayor to try and get Hull on the map for snooker, maybe I did it too well as a major ITV just got dropped in right over the top of our planned 2023 UK Seniors. And what did irritate me, but was I accept an oversight, was that internally our sport talked about how great it was to get snooker to Hull, we’d been there three years! So anyway it was clear two events as close to each other would not work, and again me as a snooker fan am I going to buy a ticket to see Patrick Wallace v Darren Morgan (with respect to both) or am I going to go to a best of 19 between the likes of Ronnie and Judd? Not often I really get irritated but that was a blow as that decision was made without a single consideration of the Seniors tour.

M: So whats the future?

J: But the good news is from May, when the agreement ends, Seniors is free to do whatever it wants and my partners at the WPBSA have been so great in continuing to support their tour as they truly see the benefit of it. 

So whereas seniors fans and players may be disappointed for this season, please sit tight as with the freedom to stage events when and where we want, with no restrictions on who we talk to or invite, with my new broadcast partners on events in darts I think the Seniors could very well get back to where it was pre covid.

M: Back to the 900 … the line-up is extremely diverse, which is great to see. Notably, it includes female players. Yet you consider a “Women’s 900”. Why is that? 

J: I think a Women’s week special, just like the pros could work very well. Once again I would dip into my own pocket to get that on, its well-known I am a huge supporter of the women’s game, women in sport, and not just because I manage Reanne. Why more Women’s snooker is not on tv baffles me.

M: What about other “specific” 900s? A “Youth 900” maybe? Thinking “under 18”  and or “under 16” here. 

J: So this time the rules on betting meant I could not invite a Liam Davies, a Daniel Boyes or Stan Moody despite how good that would have been but what underlies the whole 900 concept is not just about this tv event. 

The software I have built with a young whizzkid called Aaron from Scotland can soon be licensed to clubs who can run their own events, their own leagues. 

The beauty of a game of 900 is its 15 minutes… it’s a couple of games in your lunch hour. In a night league format for 3 or 4 players to play a couple of games and be done before midnight. It suits the modern lifestyle. And then my events can be about leagues, clubs sending us their champions. It can be played as a doubles event, a team event… it’s so flexible. We already have enquires for clubs wanting to run their own 900 events.

M: Anything else planned?

J: You’ve known me long enough to know I never sit still but also a lot of people don’t know I’ve been fighting a criminal court case for almost three years after someone in the sport made up a series of lies and false allegations against me because I uncovered some financial irregularities in a company I was involved in with some other professionals. They tried to destroy my reputation, my role with seniors and me personally, it was incredibly stressful having to keep quiet about this during that period on legal advice. That all came to an end in June when the truth finally all came out in court, as I knew it would, and I was found not guilty, completely vindicated and got a costs order.

So that’s behind me and now I am free of that I am back on full charge…Doubles in November, Champs league for amateurs I hope to start in 2023. Added a 4th darts major, Legends is taking Ronnie to Bulgaria and Germany this season, working on exhibitions for Stephen H. Team Champs in April 23 and the small matter of 4 Seniors Qualifiers, 4 Super Seniors Qualifiers and 3 Seniors Open Events…keep up everyone lol

Thank you Jason and good luck in your endeavours!

David Hendon thoughts ahead of the 2022/23 season

I know that the season has already started but it’s been a bit low key over the summer. In about a week’s time it will start in earnest, and David Hendon, writing for Eurosport, is sharing his thoughts about what is at stake for various players this season:

The snooker season will soon be fully awake after a few months in which it’s opened its eyes only to close them again.

The British Open, which gets underway later this month, is only the third event since the new campaign began in June. The calendar has been difficult to plan because of ongoing uncertainty over Covid in China, which means the five lucrative competitions previously staged there remain in cold storage for now.

But suggestions of crisis have been overstated. There are 15 ranking events on this season’s schedule, 12 of which are open to the whole tour, plus the usual elite invitation tournaments and the new World Mixed Doubles Championship.

So players at the top end of the game will soon have plenty to play in while those lower down the rankings have recently been offered a £20,000 earnings’ guarantee by World Snooker Tour to ease some of the financial burden. Discussions are meanwhile ongoing for new events in Europe, with the potential for these to be added to the calendar this season.

But which players will come good when the action finally restarts?

Ronnie O’Sullivan begins the season in a stronger position than ever. World champion for a record equalling seventh time and world no.1, this sporting colossus has never enjoyed a higher profile and it will grow even further when the documentary filmed about him over the last 12 months is aired later this year.

t’s been said many times, but what a career he’s had. His first ranking title came in November 1993, his most recent in May 2022. He has had to face an array of formidable challengers in those three decades, sometimes coming up short but always coming back.

Looking down now from the mountaintop, O’Sullivan has nothing left to prove, which makes him especially dangerous to his main rivals, none of whom can approach the new term with the same relaxed attitude.

Perhaps the greatest unknown quantity is Mark Selby. Last season was a write-off for the four times world champion as he faced up to problems he had long kept bottled up. He is in a better place now but, to complicate things, he recently suffered neck pain which has required treatment.

Selby is ranked third in the official two-year list but factoring in the points which will come off his ranking, including the 500,000 he won at the Crucible in 2021, his provisional end of season position is currently a perilous 24th.

There is plenty of time for that to change before May, but Selby needs to start winning matches soon. Otherwise it is not impossible that he could head to Sheffield in the spring in danger of being relegated from the elite top 16.

Judd Trump suffered what was perhaps an inevitable backwards step last season after three extraordinary campaigns from 2018 to 2021 in which he won 14 ranking titles, plus the Masters.

That hit rate was always going to be hard to keep up. Last season he won one ranking title, the new Turkish Masters, plus the prestigious Champion of Champions and reached the world final, not a bad year but not as impressive as what had come before.

By now it may have been expected, not least by Trump himself, that he would have taken over from O’Sullivan as the sport’s preeminent figure, but he was outplayed by him for long sections of their Crucible final. The challenge for Trump this season is to wrest back trophies but also the limelight.

Those perennial warhorses John Higgins and Mark Williams each produced a high standard last season but were left rueing several near misses between them. Higgins reached six finals but won only one. In three where he finished runner-up he had been a frame from victory, most notably 9-4 up to Neil Robertson in the Tour Championship only to lose 10-9.

Williams won the British Open but lost a decider to Robertson in the Masters semi-finals after the Australian needed two snookers, a last frame thriller to O’Sullivan in the Tour Championship quarter-finals and yet another deciding frame in the World Championship semis where Trump beat him 17-16 in a Crucible classic.

Higgins and Williams are the very opposite of underachievers but these close defeats still sting, even 30 years on from turning pro.

Robertson has been on an extended break after a stellar season in which he won four big titles before coming up short again in Sheffield, losing 13-12 to Jack Lisowski in the second round despite making a maximum break in the final session.

The Melbourne left-hander will play in the mixed doubles competition but has not entered the campaign’s first three tournaments and so won’t be seen in a ranking event until the Northern Ireland Open in October – six months after his Crucible defeat.

This may seem odd but Robertson has enough money and ranking points in the bank to take a lengthy break, and there have been so few events in the meantime that, even if he is rusty, it’s not as if anyone else will be particularly sharp.

The main challenge to the established order seems likely to come from China, with Zhao Xintong, 25, and Yan Bingtao, 22, leading the charge.

Zhao sensationally broke through last season by winning the UK Championship and swiftly followed this up with victory at the German Masters. Things unravelled a little at the end of the campaign when he lost 10-9 from 8-4 up to Higgins at the Tour Championship before a second-round exit at the Crucible.

When players suddenly achieve success, expectations change – their own as much as other people’s. But Zhao is an outstanding talent with an apparent ability to just enjoy what he is doing. He doesn’t have the mental scars of the older players and plays an eye-catching game that makes him an obvious crowd favourite.

Yan is younger than his good friend but his game is more layered. He won the longest frame in Crucible history against Selby last April, an 85-minute grind, and was also completely unfazed by a pigeon landing on the table during the same match.

However, Yan also lost 9-0 to Zhao in their German Masters final, so if anything a lack of consistency seems to be his Achilles’ heel. If he can achieve a more reliable baseline level of performance he could do some real damage.

Kyren Wilson, a top player lacking the titles of those around him in the rankings, made a good start to remedying that by winning the European Masters in Germany last month. Barry Hawkins had played superbly before his form collapsed in the title match, a worrying trend for a player who has now lost six of his nine ranking finals.

Shaun Murphy and Mark Allen have shed so much weight between them this summer that they’ve had to invest in new wardrobes. They remain players who, on any given week, could win any given tournament. What difference will the new healthier approach make? Snooker is not a physical sport but stamina is important, as is mental health, and fitness can do wonders for that.

A familiar question looms over Lisowski: can he finally win a ranking title? Dashingly talented but at times frustratingly erratic, he has done superbly well to bed himself into the elite top 16 without landing a trophy. Lisowski demonstrated genuine steel to beat Robertson at Sheffield and took Higgins to a decider in the quarter-finals, a display which suggested that the next step for him isn’t far away.

A player to watch closely is Hossein Vafaei, Iran’s representative on tour who seems to be improving all the time. He won the Shootout last season and has every chance to end the current campaign as a top 16 player.

Last season we saw unlikely title wins for the little known Chinese player Fan Zhengyi, an out of form Joe Perry and Robert Milkins, whose game seemed to have completely gone before he came good at the Gibraltar Open. There is greater strength in depth through the ranks now than ever, so further success for players down the list often derided as journeymen is entirely possible.

Young talent in Britain is thinner on the ground than it once was but 21 year-old Welshmen Jackson Page and Dylan Emery are both promising prospects. Chinese hopefuls such as Pang Junxu and Wu Yize could also be dangerous.

The problem for everyone is plain: there are only so many tournaments so there can only be so many winners. Plenty of players will produce a high standard but ultimately come away empty-handed.

The snooker season is one long game of thrones, where heart, nerve and luck are all required to weather the various storms a player will face. Some weeks you’re up, some you’re down. Sometimes nothing clicks, and then suddenly it all comes together.

Fans of the sport these days are rewarded with a greater variety of winners, some familiar, some unexpected. These are the players who we now rely on to rebuild snooker’s profile after such a lengthy break. 

I’m a bit surprised that there is no mention of Luca Brecel, Stuart Bingham and Ricky Walden in David’s analysis. Those three are currently in the top 16. Stuart has been a strong presence at the top since he won the World Championship in 2015. Luca is only 27 and has three ranking events to his name. Last season he reached the final of the UK championship and won the Scottish Open. This summer, he has already won the ranking Championship League, the season opener. He could do really well this season. Ricky is also the winner of three ranking events. Back injuries have derailed his career but he is now back in the top 16 and I rate him very high.

Me, I will of course follow the two Belgian rookies: Ben Mertens and Julien Leclercq. Other than those two, I will look at the performances and results of Michael White and Lyu Haotian, two players who showed phenomenal talent as teenagers but whose careers derailed badly because of a combination of external factors and personal issues. I hope that both can finally do their talent justice.

This is how the calendar looks like (without the qualifying rounds except for the World qualifiers)

Championship League – 28 June-29 July, Morningside Arena, Leicester – Winner: Luca Brecel

European Masters – 16-21 August, Stadthalle Fürth, Fuerth, Germany – Winner: Kyren Wilson

World Mixed Doubles – 24-25 September, Marshall Arena, Milton Keynes

British Open – 26 September-2 October, Marshall Arena, Milton Keynes  

Hong Kong Masters – 6-9 October, Hong Kong Coliseum, Hong Kong

Northern Ireland Open – 16-23 October, Waterfront Hall, Belfast

Champion of Champions – 31 October-6 November, University of Bolton Stadium, Bolton

UK Championship – 12-20 November, Barbican Centre, York

Scottish Open – 28 November-4 December, Meadowbank Sports Centre, Edinburgh  

Championship League – 6 December-9 March

English Open – 12-18 December, Brentwood Centre, Brentwood  

The Masters – 8-15 January, Alexandra Palace, London

World Grand Prix – 16-22 January, The Centaur, Cheltenham

Snooker Shoot Out – 26-29 January, Morningside Arena, Leicester  

German Masters – 1-5 February, Tempodrom, Berlin, Germany

Welsh Open – 13-19 February, Venue Cymru, Llandudno

Players Championship – 20-26 February, Aldersley Leisure Village, Wolverhampton

Turkish Masters – 13-19 March, Antalya, Turkey

Tour Championship – 27 March-2 April, Bonus Arena, Hull

World Championship qualifiers – 3-12 April, English Institute of Sport, Sheffield

World Championship – 15 April-1 May, Crucible Theatre, Sheffield

Events marked in blue have already be played. Events marked in red are non ranking.

Ronnie talks about his arm injury and how it might impact his snooker in coming months

Ronnie has been speaking with Hector Nunns:

Ronnie O’Sullivan Admits He Needs To Carefully Manage Tennis Elbow Injury

Ronnie O’Sullivan admits he needs to carefully manage his tennis elbow injury in the coming days ahead of scheduled tournament appearances. 

The Rocket has been suffering with the condition in his right cueing arm for many months with it flaring up badly after his record-equalling seventh world title success at the Crucible in May. 

It troubled him throughout the summer, forcing the 46-year-old to withdraw from the European Masters event in Germany. 

O’Sullivan is keen to play in the revived Hong Kong Masters in October – a prestigious and lucrative invitation event in front of a huge crowd of up to 5,000. 

But before then he is entered in the new World Mixed Doubles later this month paired with record 12-time women’s world champion Reanne Evans – and then the British Open in Milton Keynes. 

O’Sullivan has not yet withdrawn from those tournaments on medical grounds raising hopes he will be at both – and he insists he would prefer to arrive in Hong Kong match-sharp. 

O’Sullivan said: “I have just got to rest it as much as I can so that has meant no gym as usual and no sports involving my arm

Some days it feels like it is getting better and other days it feels like it isn’t but over six months to a year hopefully it be all okay. 

I am doing everything I can to speed up the healing process but with some things you just can’t, you just have to go with nature

It is a repetitive strain injury from doing that same thing with your arm playing the shots. It’s the same thing for tennis players and golfers. It has got nothing to do with those sports as such, that’s just the name given to it.

It needs to heal. I had managed it for 10 months and it was okay up until the end of May and then I went in the gym and went a bit bananas. 

I have played a few exhibitions and did the Championship League early this season but it was getting so painful I couldn’t play any power shots which is no good for competition

I still hope to play the mixed doubles and also the British Open. For me Hong Kong is the most important tournament coming up in the calendar, it’s a great event.  

But obviously ideally I’d like a tune-up before heading there and after the mixed doubles we are into the British. That will give me something to practise for and I hope to play in them.  

I had pain before but it was manageable, and then I just overdid it. Getting older I just have to get smarter and realise I can’t do what I used to, but I have some really good people taking care of it

And it’s not been terrible! I have had a couple of nice holidays and enjoyed the time off. This season I will just play what I can.” 

The world mixed doubles at Milton Keynes will feature in addition to the O’Sullivan/Evans pairing the teams of Neil Robertson and reigning world champion Mink Nutcharut, Mark Selby and Rebecca Kenna, and Judd Trump and three-time women’s world champion Ng On-Yee. 

The tournament, to be played over two days at the Marshall Arena, will first see a round-robin group played out in best-of-four frame matches. And the teams finishing in the top two places will contest the final on the evening of September 25th. 

O’Sullivan and Evans are good friends having regularly played and gone on the road together on the Legends Tour. 

And then in the British Open ranking event starting on September 26th at the same venue presuming he is fit to take part the Rocket has been drawn to face Switzerland’s Alexander Ursenbacher in the first round carried over from qualifying to the venue. 

The British Open was revived last year after a gap of 17 years – and played at the Morningside Arena in Leicester was won by Wales’ Mark Williams. 

After that just the top six players in the world as per the rankings at the end of the World Championships head for Hong Kong where they will be joined by On-Yee and the men’s local hero Marco Fu in an elite eight-player draw.  

Robertson, Selby, Trump, John Higgins and Zhao make up the field. Kyren Wilson is the unlucky man to miss out having got into the top six since Sheffield. 

So, that’s a bit of “mixed feelings” inducing news but there is no choice really. Obviously, provided Ronnie is able to play in the British Open, we shouldn’t expect too much especially as Alex Ursenbacher isn’t the easiest opponent at the best of times, never mind when coming in cold and under-prepared.