2022 Ranking CLS – Day 5 – Groups 10 and 29

There was no real surprise yesterday in either group.

Here is the report shared by WST:

Lu And Luca Look To Winners’ Week

Luca Brecel and Lu Ning won Groups 10 and 29 respectively to progress to Winners’ Week at 2022 BetVictor Championship League Snooker at the Morningside Arena, Leicester live on FreeSports, Matchroom.Live and networks worldwide.

SCORES AND TABLES

Brecel came into Group 10 alongside Robbie Williams, Zhao Jianbo, and Oliver Brown with hopes of following on from a fine season last term. The Belgian Bullet looked cool and composed throughout his opening match as he rattled off a 3-0 win in quick time over Zhao, making breaks of 76 and 85.

Williams drew 2-2 with Brown then beat Zhao 3-1, before Brecel saw off  Brown 3-1 thanks to breaks of 89 and 66. Brecel met Williams in the last of the action, with Brecel needing only a draw to top the group. Williams took a 2-0 lead and needed only one more frame to finish the day at the summit, but Brecel hit back with runs of 67 and 98 to secure the 2-2 scoreline he needed. He becomes the second top 16 player to reach Winners’ Week after Zhao Xintong progressed earlier in the week.

I played some really good stuff today,” said Scottish Open champion Brecel. “I made a lot of breaks and felt like I was the best player in the group. To be 2-0 down against Robbie, I felt like I would’ve been disappointed if I didn’t win the group. I practised a lot during the summer. I’ve been playing some good stuff in practice. It’s not a surprise. It’s always nice to do it on the match table. I feel like I am playing a lot better than last season.

I don’t have many points to defend this season, so the only way is up. If I can get some good results, I could finish maybe top four by the end. There’s a lot to play for.

China’s Lu got off to a fine start, beating John Astley in the opener 3-1 with breaks of 97 and 91. He went on to record a 3-0 win over Chen Zifan with a top run of 54, and he sealed the group success in style with a 3-1 defeat of Oliver Lines.

BetVictor Championship League Snooker returns on Monday with Ronnie O’Sullivan in action in Group 1 with Alexander Ursenbacher, Farakh Ajaib, and Alfie Burden. Table 2 live on the Matchroom Multi Sport YouTube sees Jamie Jones, Sam Craigie, David Lilley and Andres Petrov do battle.

This is the table:

2022 Ranking CLS Groups 19 and 26 table

There isn’t really much to add to the above report. The highest seeded played the best snooker and dominated their groups. Maybe though they could have interviewed Lu Ning as well as Luca.

 

2022 Ranking CLS – Day 3 – Groups 6 and 26

Day 3 at the first ranking event of this season yielded some surprises.

With Kyren Wilson in action in Group 6, most fans probably expected him to dominate this group. Not so. Instead it was Michael Judge, the 2019 Seniors UK Champion, who booked his place into the final week. Group 26 featured three seasoned professionals and Anton Kazakov, a 17 years old rookie from Ukraine. Against all expectations, it was Anton who won the first match of the day, against the highest ranked player in the group, Tom Ford.

Here is the report shared by WST:

Judge Rules In Leicester

Michael Judge and Chris Wakelin clinched places in Winners’ Week of the 2022 BetVictor Championship League in Leicester.

Results and Tables

Judge was up against Kyren Wilson, Zhang Anda and Luke Simmonds in group six, which was a tightly contested affair. The first three fixtures all ended in 2-2 draws.

The evening action continued in the same manner after Wilson and Judge shared the spoils, the tie ended in a 2-2 draw after Wilson squandered a 2-0  lead. That result left all four players on two points.

Irishman Judge then crucially sealed the first win of the day, a 3-1 victory, to move top of the table with what proved to be the only win of the day.

Wilson needed to beat Zhang in the final game of the day, but he failed to convert a 2-1 lead and ended level at 2-2. That result saw Judge secure his progression.

Judge said:  “I felt I played quite well in patches and I am already a lot better than last year. I have been practising hard. I’ve put in a lot of hard work and I have even been swimming. I am going to give this year a proper go and show that I can still play this game like I used to. It was like coming back to a new tour. The game changed when I fell off.

Wakelin had a much clearer path to victory in group 26, where he finished ahead of Tom Ford, Ian Burns and Anton Kazakov. In a group of Tom Ford, Ian Burns, and debutant Anton Kazakov. Morning victories against Burns and Kazakov put Wakelin into the ascendancy early on.

Ford and Burns finished 2-2 after a brilliant 131 from Burns had put him 2-0 ahead. That was short lived when Ford claimed the last two frames to end 2-2. The remaining results went Wakelin’s way and he secured his place in the next phase.

2022 BetVictor Championship League Snooker continues tomorrow with Luca Brecel in action on Table 1 in Group 10 live on FreeSports and Matchroom.Live in the UK and networks worldwide with Zhao Jianbo, Robbie Williams, and Oliver Brown whilst Lu Ning leads Group 29 with John Astley, Oliver Lines, and Chen Zifan live on the Matchroom Multi Sport YouTube for free. See where to watch here.

This is the above linked table

2022 Ranking CLS Groups 6 and 26 table

Despite winning the first match in Group 26, Anton eventually came last and will get nothing for his efforts. It’s very rare that a player winning a match comes last in a group but it happened yesterday and I feel something isn’t quite right here.

Barry Hearn’s motto has always been that you need to win a match to earn money and ranking points. Yesterday, in Group 6, only Michael Judge actually won a match, yet Kyren Wilson got £2000 and Zhang Anda got £1000. The day before, Ashley Hugill also earned £1000 without winning a match. Yet, Anton, who did win a match – his first as a professional actually – got nothing. As I wrote above, it doesn’t feel right.

I believe there is a case here to, maybe, “disconnect” money from ranking points in this format. Maybe something like this: win a match you get £1000 and 3 points, draw you get £200 and 1 point and so does your opponent, lose you get nothing. That would reward winning, whilst keeping the “order of merit” as it is now.

Thoughts?

WST announces a mixed-double tournament, scheduled next September!

Yes … you read it right … here is the announcement

Snooker Breaks New Ground With BetVictor World Mixed Doubles

As one of the few major sports where men and women can compete together on an equal footing, snooker will showcase its inclusivity in September with the BetVictor World Mixed Doubles.

The pioneering tournament will see the world’s top four men – Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump, Mark Selby and Neil Robertson – each paired with one of the top four women – Reanne Evans, Ng On Yee, Nutcharut Wongharuthai and Rebecca Kenna.

Televised live by ITV, the invitation event will take place over the weekend of Saturday September 24 and Sunday September 25 at the Marshall Arena at MK Stadium in Milton Keynes. Ticket details will be announced soon.

The random draw will take place in advance of the event, with one man drawn to play alongside each woman. The four pairs will compete over two days in a round-robin format, followed by the final with the winning team to be crowned inaugural champion.

Each round-robin match will be four frames, with all frames to be completed. Teams will score one point for each frame. At the end of the group phase, the top two teams will go through to the final, which will be best of seven frames. The two players in a team will make alternate visits to the table (rather than alternate shots).

Session times are 1pm and 7pm on both days. Each of the first three sessions will feature two group matches, so all eight players will be in action. The final will then take place on Sunday September 25 from 7pm.

The players:

Ronnie O’Sullivan – current World Champion, world number one and crowd favourite
Judd Trump – 2019 World Champion known for his flamboyant style
Mark Selby – four time Crucible king and current world number three
Neil Robertson – the best player of the 2021/22 season, winning four titles
Reanne Evans – the most successful ever World Women’s Snooker player with 12 world titles
Ng On Yee – three-time World Champion and one of Hong Kong’s most famous sport stars
Nutcharut Wongharuthai – up-and-coming talent from Thailand who won her first world title in 2022
Rebecca Kenna – women’s world number four and multiple title winner

This will be the first televised mixed doubles snooker event since 1991 when Steve Davis and Allison Fisher joined forces to win the title in Hamburg.

WST Chairman Steve Dawson said: “This is the first time that a mixed doubles snooker event will be broadcast live on free-to-air television so it’s a very significant moment for our sport.  We’re delighted to partner with ITV and BetVictor for this fantastic tournament.

Snooker is a game for everyone, regardless of age, gender and nationality, and we have proved this with the expansion of our tour and of the sport at grassroots level. There is no reason why men and women can’t compete together and we are thrilled to have – for the first time – four women on our professional tour in the coming season.

The BetVictor World Mixed Doubles will be an opportunity for the eight players to compete in pairs, creating a different dynamic to the usual individual formats. It will be fascinating to watch both for the live audience and television viewers.

We look forward to delivering a high quality event and we hope to make this a regular fixture on the circuit.”

Global Sponsorship manager Sam Boswell from sponsor BetVictor added: “We’re proud to be sponsoring the BetVictor World Mixed Doubles in September, it’s an event that showcases how the game is for everyone, and we look forward to growing our presence in world snooker by supporting this unique tournament.

Well that’s terrific news! I only hope that the event will also be shown on Eurosport or stremead on Matchroom.live … because, well, ITV is very much UK only.

If snooker is for everyone, it should be for every fan as well, right? 

Which would be your dream “pairing set” then?

Here is mine:

  • Selby-Kenna – the tacticians
  • Trump-Evans – the scorers
  • Robertson-On Yee – the cautious
  • Ronnie-Mink – giggling and laugher!

 

 

2022 Ranking CLS – Day 2 – Groups 4 and 31

Zhao Xintong and Noppon Saengkham were probably the favourites to emerge from their groups ahead of yesterday’s matches and, whilst Zhao eased through Group 4, Noppon’s hopes to make it to the final week were dashed by the birthday boy … Anthony Hamilton who topped Group 31.

Happy 51 Anthony!

Here is the report shared by WST:

Zhao And Hamilton Progress

Zhao Xintong and Anthony Hamilton progressed to Winners’ Week after the second day of play at the BetVictor Championship League Snooker in Leicester

Results and Tables

Zhao started the day off in a rampant fashion as he defeated Michael Holt in a 3-1 win which included a century run of 105. The Cyclone followed that up with a 45-minute demolition of Adam Duffy.

Hammad Miah was Zhao’s main opposition for the place in the next stage. After drawing with Duffy, he scored a 3-1 defeat of Holt. That set up a deciding tie with Zhao in the last round of matches.

UK Champion Zhao only required a point, but he eased to a 3-0 win to secure his place in the next round in impressive fashion.

Zhao said: “I want to be better than last year and I want to do my best. I will try as hard as I can to win the matches and the tournament. The idea of aiming to become world number one in the future sounds good. Hopefully I can do it.

Over on table two the decisive tie was more tightly contested. Noppon Saengkham started off brightly with a 3-0 win over Steven Hallworth. The Thai cueist went on to add a second win of the day with a 3-1 defeat of Ashley Hugill, which included a high break of 90. Hamilton meanwhile had to settle for a point against Hugill, before whitewashing Hallworth. That meant only a win against Saengkham would keep his tournament hopes alive.

Former German Masters winner Hamilton came out the blocks quickly against Saengkham, with a classy clearance of 130 to lead 1-0. Saengkham got his first on the board in the second, but Hamilton took the next and then fired in a break of 114 in the last to seal a win and his spot in the next stage.

2022 BetVictor Championship League Snooker continues tomorrow with previous winner Kyren Wilson in action on Table 1 in Group 6 live on FreeSports and Matchroom.Live in the UK and networks worldwide with Zhang Anda, Michael Judge, and Luke Simmonds whilst Tom Ford leads Group 26 with Chris Wakelin, Ian Burns and Anton Kazakov live on the Matchroom Multi Sport YouTube for free. See where to watch here.

Here is the table as linked above

Ranking CLS 2022 groups 4 and 31 - table

Shaun Murphy was in commentary for most of the day and, with Phil Yates, reflected on a few interesting points.

  • Michael Holt is almost unrecognizable as a player. He seems to have been stripped of any sort of confidence and his shot selection was “erratic” yesterday, as – from what I heard – it had been during the Q-School. The commentators reflected that winning the Shoot Out was probably a “curse in disguise” (my wording) as it gave him a false sense of security and when the associated ranking points came off, he wasn’t really prepared for it. It was a shock. Of course, it was predictable, Michael “knew” that this was coming but he probably didn’t really understand how brutal the “fall” would be … until it happened. And, IMO, the same happened to Michael Georgiou. as well.
  • Whilst commenting on Hammad Miah, who played some good stuff in patches, Shaun Murphy and Phil Yates reflected on the importance and history of the “recovery blue”. Here is their discussion summarised by Phil Haigh:

Ronnie O’Sullivan ‘changed the game’ of snooker with one shot, says Shaun Murphy

Ronnie - gettyimages-1394572730
Ronnie O’Sullivan has had a huge impact on snooker in a range of ways (Picture: Getty Images)

Ronnie O’Sullivan ‘changed the game’ of snooker early in his career by taking on a shot that few players did then, but now every professional practices regularly, believes Shaun Murphy.

Sometimes called a ‘recovery blue’ because a player has strayed from ideal position, the shot in question sees the blue potted to a baulk corner pocket.

It is a common shot in the modern game, but did not used to be, as Phil Yates explained on commentary during the Championship League on FreeSports, saying: ‘One aspect of the game that has vastly improved is the recovery blue.

So many players knock it in now as if it’s simple, but we all know it’s a real examination of cueing.

Former world champion Murphy explained that it was the Rocket that turned the shot from a rarity into standard practice 30 years ago.

It was O’Sullivan, really, that started it in the early 90s,’ said the Magician. ‘He was the one that first, if he finished near the pink spot somewhere, he’d just get down and pot the blue.

Of course, Shaun, being younger than Ronnie, can’t have witnessed him playing that shot in Norbreck Castle in 1992, but Phil Yates was there and he remembers it vividly.

Today my attention will be on Anton Kazakov. He’s in a hard group. Group 26 doesn’t feature any top 16 player but Tom Ford, Chris Wakelin and Ian Burns are all very good solid players. Tom is a ferocious scorer when on form,  Ian is an expecienced “hard match player” and Chris can “mix” it. . Anton will certainly learn from the experience. Hopefully he will also enjoy it and show us what he’s capable of.

2022 Ranking CLS – Day 1 – Groups 24 & 13

And so the new season started yesterday with a rather low key event … and two rather “low key” groups.

Here is the report shared by WST:

Robert Milkins and Aaron Hill opened the 2022/23 season with respective group wins to move forward into Winners’ Week at the 2022 BetVictor Championship League.

Results and Tables

Milkins, who emotionally claimed his maiden ranking crown at the BetVictor Gibraltar Open last season, started this campaign strongly. The Milkman made 78 in the opening frame against Sanderson Lam before clinching a 3-0 win. Former Crucible semi-finalist Andy Hicks provided the sternest opposition to Milkins and scored wins of his own against Allan Taylor and Lam to sit top of the group at the break.

When play resumed, Taylor needed to beat  Milkins if he was to progress but he succumbed to a 3-1 defeat. That set up a showdown between Milkins and Hicks in the final match to settle the Group 24 winner.

Milkins and Hicks met in the final match of the day in Group 24 to settle things a the top end of the table.The tie ended as a 2-2 draw and it was enough for Milkins to progress on frame difference.

Milkins said: “I played alright today. I played well in patches. I thought I played solid in the first two matches. Overall, I am quite pleased. I have nothing to lose now. I just keep going. Even today, I felt like the weight was off my shoulders.

Hill is freshly back on tour through Q School and he made a century run of 101 in his opening match 3-0 win over Craig Steadman. Former English Amateur champion Ben Hancorn had to settle for draws against David Grace and Steadman to leave the group open going into the evening session, but it was advantage to Hill.

Into the evening session and Hill looked to be on course for Winners’ Week with a match to spare after establishing a 2-0 lead over David Grace. The Yorkshireman hit back in the following two frames to earn a 2-2 draw and leave Hill sweating.

A 2-2 draw between Hill and Hancorn took it down to the final tie. The permutations for Grace were clear in his final match with Steadman. A 3-0 win and a high break beating Hill’s 101 was required to take him through. Grace took the opener, but Steadman poured the cold water on his hopes by drawing level. Grace went on to win 3-1 but it was to no avail..

BetVictor Championship League Snooker – Ranking Event continues tomorrow with Zhao Xintong in action on Table 1 in Group 4 live on FreeSports and Matchroom.Live in the UK and networks worldwide with Hammad Miah, Adam Duffy, and Michael Holt whilst Noppon Saengkham, Ashley Hugill, Anthony Hamilton and Steven Hallworth live on the Matchroom Multi Sport YouTube for free. See where to watch here.

And here is the (above linked to ) table

Ranking CLS 2022 groups 24 and 13 - table

It wasn’t the most enthralling day of snooker and I had a bit of a discussion about that with Gary Moss on twitter. Gary said that this wasn’t the actual start of the season, rather a pre-season event. I disagreed, arguing that this was actually a good event to start the season, allowing the newcomers to settle and getting familiar with pro conditions: three matches guaranteed, a streamed table but no crowd. It’s not the first time Gary and I disagree and he felt hurt. It wasn’t my intention at all, I’m sorry he felt this way and want to apologise for making him feeling uneasy. I’m quite an upfront person and working for 35 years in IT system development hasn’t made me any “softer”: it is/was a very strongly male dominated cut-throat environment, especially when I started in the mid 70th.

Anyway, Gary and I continued our discussion by messaging and what we came to realise is that we were just looking at it from two completely different standpoints, with different “goals” in mind.

As those who read this blog regularly will know, I feel that the current “system” is far too brutal and doesn’t offer a good path for development to young players and main tour rookies. The situation is made even worse by the fact that the “gap” between the “professional level” and the “top amateur level” is widening with every passing season (*). Therefore, I was welcoming this “soft start” of the season.

Gary had something else in mind: he feels that the first event of the season should be a “flagship” event, something prestigious, driving media attention to our sport. I do see his point.  With that in mind, this event isn’t filling the bill indeed, and the timing is possibly as bad as it can be… clashing with the Wimbledon Championships 🙄

Back to yesterday’s results … Robert Milkins topping his group was to be expected.

The other group looked more open. Aaron Hill played the best snooker all day and deservedly topped it. I think we will see a very different Aaron this term and the next. He fell off the tour and immediately regained his tour card via the Q-School. It was a very tough experience and Aaron rated this achievement above beating Ronnie on his debut.

To be sitting here after getting through Q School is a much bigger achievement than beating Ronnie,”

There was much more pressure out there and I think it is probably the biggest achievement of my life. I was thrown in at the deep end on the tour and didn’t expect it to be as tough as it was. But I have got a second chance and I am determined to make the most of it.

The quote I put in bold is exactly the expression of the biggest problem in snooker nowadays. Young amateurs  arrive on tour totally unprepared for what awaits them. Some like Aaron survive it and get stronger. Others are completely destroyed by the experience and might never recover. I do have a few names in mind but will refrain to name anyone as they might feel singled out and hurt. And of course, it’s even harder for players coming from  outside UK/Ireland, having to cope with a diffrent culture, a different language, possibly administrative “hassle”, away from family and friends.

 

(*) This of course is a very serious, fundamental issue that need to be adressed if we want snooker to thrive in the future.

Today is the first day of the 2022/23 snooker season

Indeed the ranking 2022 Championship League Snooker starts today, with two groups of 4 players in action. None of the poster boys are “out” playing today, but Zhao Xintong will start his season tomorrow.

All matches are either televised or streamed. He is how you can watch it.

And this is how it works:

Groups are made up of four players, with players seeded according to World Rankings and one player from each seeding pool (1-32, 33-64, 65-96, 97-128) in each group.

Players will be awarded three points for a win and one point for a drawn match.

The group table standings will be determined by the following criteria, in this order:
1) Most points
2) Net frame difference
3) Result of match between the two players in question (should three or more players be tied then a mini table will be produced using the criteria above).
4) Highest break in the group.
5) If the highest break is also tied, the next highest break made by the players in question will be used.

The CLS isn’t everyone’s favourite tournament and it’s true that it “drags” a bit. It’s also not “helped” this year by “clashing” with Wimbledon…

On the other hand, it’s a great opportunity for the “rookies” on tour: they are guaranteed three matches, streamed, against opponents of various strength. There are no spectators, which might actually ease the pressure on them too.

In the first “round”, the group winners get £3000, the runner-ups get £2000, the “third placed” get £1000. Only the lasts in the groups get nothing (except experience). In most tournaments it’s half the entrants who get nothing.

The “Home Page” for the event is here.

The snooker.org site has been getting ready for the new season with all the currently relevant ranking and seeding lists up-to-date. Here is where you will be able to follow the 2022 ranking CLS.

As it stands, we now know 130 of the 131 2022/23 Tour professionals. Still Missing is the African Champion. This is the draw for the Group stage of the Qualifying event. To be honest, I’m not sure where we can find and follow the results of this tournament.

One player who hasn’t entered the CLS is Stephen Hendry. That’s not surprising, but, in my opinion at least, it’s a mistake. If Stephen really has any ambition to get back at the Crucible, he needs to play competitively much more than he did in the previous two years, he actually need to play in everything, no matter how unprestigious the event might feel. He got another two years invitational card and I’m not sure he deserved it, no matter his status in the history of the game. I know that Legends like him do put bums on seats … but only if they actually play. Jimmy White and Ken Doherty certainly make the most of theit invitational tour cards, and they are still extremely popular with the fans. Stephen has barely played over the last two years, and his “Tour card” could have – and maybe should have – been given to someone who actually would play at every opportunity. As I wrote this is only my opinion and I’m aware it might be a very unpopular one.

One player we are unlikely to see this season is Sunny Akani. He’s back to Thailand and still far from fully recovered from “long covid” A few days back, Sunny’s father posted on Sunny’s facebook page, explaining that this season the main goals for his son will be to get healthy and strong again and to rediscover his former “enjoyment” when playing. He added that the plan is currently for Sunny to try to regain his tour card at the end of this season via the Asia-Oceania Q-School. Good luck Sunny!

Other than Ronnie (of course) my main focus this season will be on the young players from mainland Europe.  Amongst them two Belgian teenagers: Ben Mertens and Julien Leclercq. A couple of days ago WST wrote this piece about them:

Ben Mertens will be one of three Belgian players on the World Snooker Tour in 2022/23, having turned professional for the first time.

Mertens may be a familiar face to keen watchers of the sport as he made his television debut at the age of just 14 at the Shoot Out in 2019 and beat James Wattana. Later that year, he was half of the Belgian team which reached the quarter-finals of the Snooker World Cup in China, alongside Luca Brecel. Playing matches against the likes of John Higgins and Stephen Maguire provided valuable experience for Mertens.

In 2020, he became the youngest player ever to win a match in the World Championship (a record subsequently beaten by Liam Davies) with a 6-2 victory over James Cahill in the first qualifying round. Mertens came close to securing a tour card on several occasions before eventually earning his opportunity at the top table by winning this month’s European Under-21 Championship, beating Florian Nuessle 5-1 in the final.

I feel I am ready for it now,” said the 17-year-old as he looked ahead to his first pro season. “In the past I have had some tough defeats, but they have made me stronger. Looking back, it was better for me to stay amateur for a few years and wait until I was 100 per cent ready to turn pro. It’s what I have dreamed of since I started playing snooker.

In the last 16 I was 3-1 down against Ross Bulman and I managed to find another gear and win the last three frames in one visit. After that I felt very confident. I had another close match against Julian Boiko in the quarter-finals and won 4-3 with a good break in the last frame. The final wasn’t easy but after going 3-1 up I felt I was going to win.

For good measure, Mertens reached the final of the men’s European Championship, and despite defeat there against Andres Petrov, he has plenty of momentum to take into his rookie season. Joining him on that journey will be his fellow Belgian teenager Julien Leclercq, who won the WPBSA Q Tour Play-Off in May.

Julien and I started playing at the same time, we have grown up together and motivated each other to keep improving,” said Mertens, who first picked up a cue at the age of eight after spotting a mini pool table in a toy shop. “We are good friends and I’m sure we will often travel together to tournaments. It’s nice for me to have him there in my first season, going through the same experience.

Both of them are inspired by the success of Brecel, the only player from mainland Europe to win a ranking event. And there are more promising Belgian youngsters with potential to break through, such as Sybren Sokolowski, Stef Nuytkens, Mathias Van Der Meeren, Yorrit Hoes and Thijs Pauwels, who was runner-up to Mertens in this year’s Belgian Under-18 Championship.

It’s unbelievable for a small country to have three players on the tour,” said Mertens, who – like Brecel – plans to live in Belgium and commute to the UK for tournaments. He has a Star table at home and will practise regularly with both Leclercq and Brecel.

Asked to name his strengths as a player, Mertens added: “My scoring is good and I have the right mentality  – I never give up. I know the pro game will be a big step up but also it will be great to play in perfect conditions. Staying on the tour is hard enough so that will be my main ambition for the first two years.

 

Veel geluk, Ben! Bonne chance Julien!

Their fathers are close friends too and both families will be behind them both.

30 Years Ago … Ronnie, Willo and John Higgins made their professional debuts

Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the “Class of 92” debut …

To mark the day, David Hendon wrote this… 

HOW RONNIE O’SULLIVAN, JOHN HIGGINS, MARK WILLIAMS ACHIEVED SNOOKER IMMORTALITY – 30 YEARS OF CLASS OF ’92

On the 30th anniversary of the famous Class of ’92 arriving on the scene, Eurosport’s esteemed snooker writer Dave Hendon looks back on the day that saw a legendary trio begin the professional journeys that would change the sport forever. How did these three players achieve snooker immortality over the same period of time, and will this kind of era ever be seen again?

BY DAVE HENDON

June 20th, 1992. John Major sits in Downing Street after a surprise election win. George Bush – the first one – is in the last months of his US presidency. Basic Instinct is No. 1 in the UK box office. The first-ever FA Premier League season is a few weeks from lift-off.

And in a hotel on Blackpool’s seafront, the new snooker season is getting underway. Hundreds of hopefuls are lining up, many now long forgotten. But among the new intake, three will go on to achieve snooker immortality. The star pupils of the Class of ’92 – Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams – are taking their first steps in the professional ranks.

Fast forward 30 years, and they have won a combined total of 94 ranking titles. Between them have made 2,623 centuries in competition, 29 of which have been maximums. They have amassed around £30m in prize money and been recurring characters in the ongoing narrative of professional snooker, hitting heights, experiencing lows, but always recovering, and at times, amazing fans with their performances.

But the most remarkable thing to note on this 30th anniversary is that they are all still at the top. When the new season begins at the Championship League next week, all three will be ranked inside the world’s top eight. O’Sullivan is world No. 1 and the reigning world champion. Higgins is starting a record 28th successive season in the top 16. Williams will be the defending champion at the British Open in September.

How did all of this happen?

They were born at the right time, just before the UK snooker boom and so were young boys at its height. In the mid-1980s, with snooker attracting huge audiences on all four TV channels, there was nothing unusual about a 10-year-old being interested in the game. Live football on television was scarce. There was no home internet, no social media and no streaming platforms.

Sport just about retained an innocence a few years before tides of cash started washing over it. These boys weren’t playing for money. They were playing because they found something they were good at, something they had fallen in love with.

They all owed their development to their fathers. Ronnie senior spotted his son’s potential early on and was soon arranging for leading amateurs and professionals to come and play him on the full-sized table he had installed in their home. Higgins was taken with his brother to a club at the age of nine by their dad, who could have a pint and chat to his friends while the boys were occupied on the table. Williams’ father was a miner and it was at a Christmas tournament between pitmen where young Mark first saw the game close up.

They benefited from a plethora of playing opportunities in their respective corners of the UK: O’Sullivan in south-east England, Higgins in Scotland and Williams in south Wales.

They each enjoyed success on their respective home soils before eventually colliding head-on at the junior event staged as part of the World Masters in Birmingham in January 1991. O’Sullivan was the favourite but Higgins beat him in the quarter-finals and Williams in the final. 17 months later, they all turned professional.

The big beasts of the snooker world back in 1992 did not need to worry about events in Blackpool. The likes of Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis and Jimmy White would be enjoying the beach or the golf course, safely seeded through to the final stages of all the major events which were still several months away.

Snooker had long been a closed shop but was opened up the previous year to anyone with a cue who could afford the entry fees. Old stagers on the way down mixed with new hopefuls. In 1992, Joe Perry and Dominic Dale were among those starting out.

At the Norbreck Castle Hotel, it was a production line, with hundreds of matches played to determine the qualifiers for the ranking events. One day it would be the UK Championship, the next the Dubai Classic. It barely mattered, the environment was the same – two rows of more than 20 tables housed in the grand ballroom while holidaymakers enjoyed the attractions outside.

Young Ronnie - 1992

This was like going to snooker university for a group of young players away from home for up to two months. Some treated it as a holiday or a prolonged stag-do. For the soon-to-be holy trinity, the fun came from winning.

Journalist and broadcaster Phil Yates covered the qualifying school back in 1992. He remembers a buzz about all three players, with O’Sullivan standing out.

They were all good lads,” he said. “John is probably the least changed of the three. He was always very approachable, down to earth. Mark was a little shy, he’s become much more of an extrovert.

When I watched John, I couldn’t believe how savvy he was at such a young age. He played all the right shots and Mark clearly had great potential too. We knew John and Mark could be champions, but Ronnie was guaranteed.

He stayed in the same hotel room for two months. He’d be playing pretty much every day and people piled in to watch him, they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. It was a revelation how good he was. In terms of reputation, when they turned pro he was head and shoulders above the others but that gap quickly closed.

O’Sullivan, just 16, was successful in 74 of his 76 qualifying matches. Among them was a meeting with 77-year-old Fred Davis, who had won eight world titles in the post-war era. The teenager beat him 5-1.

O’Sullivan had boundless energy, some of which he would burn off by going for long runs on Blackpool beach. One morning he got up so early to play golf that it was still getting light as he stood on the first tee.

He was clearly the best player there, ferociously talented if not yet the finished article. In his debut season, he made 29 centuries from 112 matches played. Last season he made 62 centuries from 61 matches. The furthest O’Sullivan went in a ranking event in 1992/93 was the quarter-finals of the European Open.

Ronnie and Higgins in 2005-2006

Higgins reached this stage of the British Open. He had grown up as a fan of Davis and quickly adopted the same percentage game to deadly effect. He ended up becoming world champion first, in 1998, with Williams following in 2000 and O’Sullivan in 2001.

Williams had turned professional because, at 17, he was too old for the Welsh under-16s and too young for the over-18s. He shared a bed in Blackpool with another Welsh player, Ian Sargeant, to save money. His best run that first year was to the last 16 of the European Open.

One of snooker’s great contrarians, Williams will probably feel he doesn’t belong in this article. He has said several times that he does not compare himself to his two great contemporaries, but he has done things the other two have not.

In the 2002/03 season, he emulated Davis and Hendry by winning the UK, Masters and world titles during a single campaign, a feat which would now be regarded as remarkable since the ‘triple crown’ has gained currency in recent years.

During this period of incredible consistency, Williams set a record of 48 successive first-round wins in ranking events. When his form finally dipped, O’Sullivan stepped up again, and when he fell away for a spell, Higgins enjoyed success. All three have spurred each other on. Every last hurrah they apparently enjoy is swiftly followed by another one.

One by one, O’Sullivan has come for Hendry’s records. He is top of the all-time centuries list, has won most ranking events, holds the record for most UK and Masters trophies and has equalled Hendry’s haul of seven world titles.

Last year, Higgins won the Players Championship for the loss of only four frames while Williams captured two ranking titles.

They have achieved all this while having to contend with each other, as well as champions of the previous era and newer challengers like Neil Robertson, Mark Selby and Judd Trump. For a while, they did so amid troubling times for snooker’s administration – now thankfully long in the past – which saw the circuit at one point dwindle to only six ranking events.

In current times, the three-way rivalry has resembled a kind of mutually-assured destruction. It seems O’Sullivan always beats Williams but Williams has had the upper hand over Higgins, whereas Higgins enjoyed a good recent record against O’Sullivan.

Ronnie and Willo - Crucible 2008

This ended when O’Sullivan beat Higgins in the semi-finals of the World Championship earlier this year. Williams, who arguably played the best snooker for much of the tournament, just missed out on playing O’Sullivan in the final, losing 17-16 in the other semi to Trump, who had joked that he had landed in the semi-finals of the World Seniors Championship. Players of his generation must wonder when the Class of ’92 are going to finally go away and leave the field to the rest.

There’s no sign of it. All three have retained good eyesight. They don’t practise all day long anymore but put in quality time. They possess knowledge and table-craft from lengthy careers which mean they can win any type of frame, whether through heavy scoring or tactical play.

They are three remarkable characters, all very different but with individual qualities that, if combined, would produce the ultimate snooker player.

They all get on without being close friends. Away from snooker, they have their own lives and their own families, but there is a healthy respect between all three and recognition that, collectively, they are part of something special.

They could surely never have believed, back on this day 30 years ago, tasting the salty sea air in Blackpool as they arrived as teenagers, cues in hand, excited and ready for an adventure, that three decades on they would have done all that they have.

And the frightening thing is that there is very likely much more to come. It could be a long time before this class is dismissed.

30 years later they are all three in the top 8. As it stands they are all three in the top 6 of  the provisional end-of-season rankings for this (new) season 2022/23.

Ronnie is number 1 with a 331500 points cushion on Neil Robertson who is number 2. Willo is 6th with a 176000 points cushion on the number 17, Stuart Bingham. There is every chance for all three of them to still be in the top 16 at the start of next season.

Off topic… Looking at those provisional rankings, I was shocked to find out that Mark Selby finds himself as low as number 22 in that list and that Shaun Murphy is even lower as he is down to 35th. Selby is currently ranked number 3, and of course, he has the 2021 Crucible points to defend. Shaun Murphy is currently ranked number 9 … Both will need a strong season.