A great interview with Stephen Hendry

Stephen Hendy turned 51 three days ago – happy belated  birthday Legend – and did this great podcast with the BBC 

Hendry

Here is a extended summary by BBC as well:

Don’t Tell Me The Score: Stephen Hendry on dominating snooker, retirement and ‘the greatest’ debate

The bare statistics of snooker legend Stephen Hendry’s astonishing career justify the sort of swagger that was a feature of his utter dominance in the 1990s.

A record-breaking seven-time world champion and the youngest ever Crucible winner, Hendry’s relentless quest for perfection and attacking style saw opponents cowed and crushed with relentless regularity.

The Scot took the sport to a new level ensuring his place among the greats, if not leading the greats.

Such pioneering success perhaps made Hendry’s subsequent struggles and fall from grace to his eventual retirement in 2012 even more surprising.

In a revealing, in-depth interview with Simon Mundie on BBC Radio 4’s Don’t Tell Me The Score the 51-year-old discusses idols, inspirations, looking the part and playing the part, battling for supremacy with Ronnie O’Sullivan and the technical and mental psychological issues that overwhelmed him.

The 36-time ranking event winner, a record he holds jointly with O’Sullivan, said his problems started with a tightness in his cueing action followed by a critical inner voice.

“There were technical problems to start with, then it gets to you and you start to play the wrong shots because you are avoiding shots,” he added.

“When you are first playing, you have no fear when you miss. Over the years you miss one or two and then you get a voice saying ‘you shouldn’t go for this’ and that’s the start of the end playing sport aggressively.”

The no-fear approach worked a treat until he called it a day. A relative late starter, Hendry was hooked on the sport after getting his first table as a Christmas present just a couple of weeks before he turned 13.

‘Davis was the benchmark – I wanted to be like him’

“I played every second I could and fell in love with the game,” he explained. “I played other sport and was ok but never stood out. But I was really good at something and that made me want to play more and more.”

Hendry was soon winning title after title but it was not until his first victory over another member of snooker royalty, Steve Davis, that he really started to believe.

“At 18 I beat Steve and that was a major stepping stone,” Hendry added. “He had beaten me something like 17 or 18 times. After that thought I could be the best because I had beaten the best. I thought I just needed to beat him once.

“Over a 10-year period I did totally dominate the game. Steve Davis, who was the benchmark, dominated the 80s and I wanted to be like Steve.

“When I was learning my trade I wanted Steve to win. Jimmy White was my idol when I first picked up a cue but I quickly realised he wasn’t the one to model my whole outlook on.

“I was just greedy. I would win a tournament on the Sunday night and be practising on the Monday for the next one. I wouldn’t rest on my laurels. It was always a kind of anti-climax when they gave me the trophy. It was kind of ‘what’s next?’ rather than ‘this is amazing’.”

His manager Ian Doyle ensured Hendry stuck to the strict practise regime that put most of his contemporaries to shame.

Hendry described the initial shock of playing for six or seven hours a day as “torture”, but he soon adjusted and the clear and obvious improvements quickly made him embrace the challenge.

The debate about ‘the greatest’

Although his career did not span the same length of time as it seemed likely at one stage, he remains one of the sport’s biggest names – to such an extent that he and O’Sullivan are the two names vying for the accolade as the greatest in history.

“Whenever you go on social media, the debate as to who is the best is massive,” Hendry said. “Ronnie is still playing and, even though I have won more world titles, he probably gets 70% of the vote.

“But I have always followed the Tiger Woods mantra that as long as you are in the conversation then you have done something well.

“The battle in snooker is in your ears. It’s a very mental sport. Even if you aren’t feeling confident, try to portray that you are.”

And as for the strut around the table and the aura that saw many an opponent crumble and as good as beaten before the match got under way?

“The aura was not deliberate. It was just the way I walked around the table,” he said.

Very honest, very nice. Thank you Stephen!

A lot of this in his Stephen’s book as well, but listening his own words is different.

 

Round-up of the past few days at the tables

Two “groups” of the Championship League Snooker 2020 were played earlier this week, with Anthony McGill and Judd Trump booking their spot in the Winners Group.

Full results for Championship League 5

Full results for Championship League 6

As usual this competition threw some strange results. For instance, Mark Williams was absolutely flying in the Group 5 round-robin stage, winning 6 matches out of 6. He then lost in the SF … and finishied 5th in Group 6. That said, it’s a lot of snooker condensed in 4 days, and players tend to treat it as a bit of paid practice.

Gao Yang from China won the 2020 WSF Junior Open in Malta

Here is the report by WPBSA

Glory For Gao at WSF Junior Open

  • 9th January 2020

Gao Yang has defeated Sean Maddocks 5-2 to claim the inaugural WSF Junior Open title earlier this afternoon in Malta.

The15-year-old Chinese talent becomes the first winner of the prestigious new junior event and will earn a two-year main tour ticket to the World Snooker Tour from the start of the 2020/21 season. The competition saw 55 of the best young snooker players in the world aged 17 or under compete over six days to become champion.

Gao, who previously competed at the WSF Championship in 2018 and recently appeared as a wildcard at the 2019 World Open in Yushan, qualified from a tough group in second place before surviving deciding-frame encounters against Scotland’s Dean Young and later his compatriot Yi Ze Wu to progress to the final.

Awaiting him in the final was England’s Maddocks, who starred in the groups dropping just one frame before reaching the title match with victories against Bradley Tyson, Antoni Kowalski, Jovan Todorovic and Irish prospect Aaron Hill.

It was Maddocks who made the stronger start to the final, taking two of the opening three frames to lead 2-1 as he looked to go one better his performance at Q School last year which saw him narrowly miss out on joining the professional ranks.

The fourth frame would however prove to be a key turning point as trailing 54-26, Gao cleared the table in two visits to draw level at the mid-session interval. This would prove to be the start of a four-frame winning run as he hit the front for the first time with a match-high break of 72 on the resumption of play, before adding the next two to secure victory.

All the detailed results can be found here.

Remarkably, there were only two Chinese players in the draw – Gao Yang and Wu Yize – and they met in the semi finals, before the winner of their match went on to win the whole event. This and the 5-2 score over Sean Maddockx, in my eyes, confirm that currently, the young best amateurs come from China and the current structure of the tour is what prevents them to dominate snooker. As I explain in my previous post, the “World” tour remains very UK centric and bias in favour of UK players.

The highest break of the tournament was a 121, made by Julien Leclercq from Belgium. Julien, 16, reached the last 16 of the tournament, narrowly losing by 3-2 to Wu Yize. This is a very good result for Julien who doesn’t benefit from as strong an amateur scene as his UK fellow juniors to play in. Julien did much better than the more fancied Ben Mertens. He’s one year older than Ben, and more mature. That matters in a tournament like this one. He will play in the “main” WSF event as well, as will Ben.

Regarding Gao, he’s only just 15, and will not been 16 yet at the start of next season. So, he may not be able to take his tour card immediately, because he may not be able to obtain a visa and a work permit in the UK until he’s 16. I read in Lewis comments that he might lose part of his prize money in this case. If this is true, it’s unfair. I would understand that a player who is in a position to take his newly earned tour card, but chooses to opt out, would get a reduced prize money, but not if it’s because of external circumstances like in Gao’s case.

Update I just spoke with Matt Huart who confirmed that half of the prize money is indeed dependent on the commitment of the player to take their tour card. Gao is determined to turn pro next season and has pulled out of the main event. Matt wasn’t sure what would happen if he was prevented to do that by circumstances beyond his control.

The “main event”, the 2020 WSF Open starts today in Malta. All results will be made available here.

World snooker rebranded to World Snooker Tour

This was published today 

Snooker’s commercial arm has relaunched as the World Snooker Tour (WST) to reflect its global growth over the past decade.

Previously known as World Snooker, WST runs the professional circuit around the planet, with a tour of 25 events and total prize money of £14.6 million.

A new logo and branding for the tour have been created, which will be used going forward at all events and on all digital platforms, including the official website WST.TV

WST has grown rapidly over the past decade; during the 2009/10 season there were just six world ranking events and total prize money of £3.6 million.

In 2010, World Snooker was taken over by Matchroom Sport, chaired by Barry Hearn. Today, snooker has vastly improved opportunities for the players to compete in lucrative events across the world, and for the fans, with 500 million people watching the sport’s linear and digital broadcast.

Barry HearnHearn said: “Our decision to relaunch as WST with fantastic new branding is part of our vision for snooker as we reflect on a decade of change and look forward to a bright future.

“Over the past ten years we have exploited the massive popularity of our sport across the planet. We have created new events with lasting legacies and worked with broadcasters to bring snooker to an ever growing audience. We have modernised our sport, particularly through social media, to appeal to a young generation of fans, and our new branding reflects that.

“We have tripled prize money over the past decade, and looking ahead to the next ten years I believe we can double it again, towards £30 million. Rather than resting on our success, we have plans in place to continue our development with relentless ambition.

“Recently we announced a new event in Saudi Arabia which will set a new record for prize money for one event, and it is a ten year deal with the intention to grow snooker at grass roots level in the region.

“As well as expansion into the Middle East we are pushing hard into India where we think there is enormous potential. North America, South America and Africa are also potential markets with a bright future. Soon we will announce plans for an exciting new online platform which will bring snooker to even more fans in every corner of the globe.

“Perhaps our greatest asset is our inclusivity. Anyone can play snooker regardless of age, gender or nationality, the only criteria is ability. There are great incentives for any young player across the world to rise through the ranks, while they are inspired by their heroes who have reached the top level.

“This is an exhilarating time to be a WST player or a fan of the sport, and as we look ahead we are limited by nothing other than our own imagination.”

WST: The Statistics

Global TV audience
500 million people
120 countries
1.6 billion households
22 broadcasters
64,400 linear broadcast hours
13 digital platforms
168 million live video views

There are players from 21 different countries among the 128 on the World Snooker Tour.

There are 104 national snooker federations worldwide. An estimated 120 million people across the globe play snooker.

World Snooker Tour total prize money, season by season
2009/10 £3.6 million
2010/11 £5.3 million
2011/12 £6.2 million
2012/13 £7.0 million
2013/14 £8.3 million
2014/15 £8.1 million
2015/16 £8.0 million
2016/17 £10.3 million
2017/18 £13.6 million
2018/19 £13.2 million
2019/20 £14.6 million

Number of ranking events, season by season 2009-2019
2009/10 6
2010/11 8
2011/12 9
2012/13 11
2013/14 12
2014/15 11
2015/16 10
2016/17 19
2017/18 20
2018/19 20
2019/20 19

Impressive? Yes it is but…. I’m an European and I can’t help to think that there are some fundamental changes needed before it’s a WORLD tour.  Currently it’s still essentially a UK centric tour. Why? Well consider this:

  • All three majors are held in the UK
  • All flat draw events that are played at the main venue are held in the UK
  • All qualifiers are held in the UK
  • The Q-school is held in the UK

This basically means that young aspiring players, who aren’t millionaires, have to live in the UK, something BTW that could become more difficult for EU citizens with Brexit coming.

China injects a lot of money in the sport, yet their young players have to come to the UK to qualify for their home events. Is that right?

Just imagine for a minute that it would be the other way around. Just imagine that UK players would have to qualify for the Home nations, the UK Championship and the World Championship in some obscure remote town in China. How many would succeed? How many would go and live in China, learn the language, accept a totally different culture, different food, be separated from their families, deal with the time difference? How many would cope? Be honest, not many. Especially when you hear people like Mark Allen and Ken Doherty telling you how hard it was to expat themselves from … Ireland, a country sharing the same language, culturally close, with no time difference and one hour away by plane. If it was the other way around, the circuit would be dominated by Chinese and Asian players, make no mistake, because they have much better stuctures to support and develop their young talents. The current structure of the tour is massively biased in favour of UK players. Yes, they are a majority, but the whole system is designed to keep it that way. That has to change if there is a real ambition to be a WORLD tour.

  • all flat draw events should be played at the final venue from round 1
  • if there are “tiered” events, the qualifiers should be played in a location geographically close to the main venue, and right before the main event , as is the case for the World Championship
  • the main tour qualification process needs to change. For the near future, “de-localised” Q-schools would be the easiest option. It would be a long term project, and would need a change in mentality, but, possibly, an “ELO” type of rating system – replacing the current rankings – could eliminate the need for the Q-school entirely. And before you tell me it’s impossible to use in snooker, it IS used in table tennis.

Now, for good measure Barry Hearn threw this in (source BBC)

Barry Hearn: Snooker’s elite can ‘go or pass’ on Saudi Arabia tournament

Barry Hearn
Barry Hearn took over as World Snooker chairman in 2009, when he said the sport was “dying”

Snooker’s elite players are under no pressure to play in the lucrative but controversial new tournament in Saudi Arabia, World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn has said.

The ranking event with the biggest prize money will take place in Riyadh in October, with the champion earning £500,000 from a total fund of £2.5m.

Hearn said the decision to go was made for the “betterment of our sport” and “we go, invest and create”.

“Every player can go or pass,” he said.

The Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters will see the country host a ranking event for the first time in 2020 as part of a money-spinning 10-year deal.

However, human rights organisation Amnesty International has highlighted the country’s “abysmal” human rights record. Heavy restrictions on freedom of expression and women’s rights have been raised, as has the use of the death penalty for offences not recognised as crimes under international law.

The Kingdom has sought to stage sporting and entertainment events in a bid to attract visitors and move away from its oil-dependent economy.

Anthony Joshua’s world heavyweight title victory over Andy Ruiz Jr took place there in December, and boxing is far from alone in staging events in Saudi Arabia, with football, motor racing, tennis, golf and WWE wrestling all recently being held in the Gulf state.

But despite accusations that the event is a cash-chasing exercise and also part of a calculated attempt by Saudi Arabia to cleanse its image through ‘sportswashing’, Hearn is adamant the long-term vision has honourable motives.

Use of female referees ‘a step forward’

Hearn says it is a chance to bring about change and offers, as a sign of progress, the fact that female referees will be used.

“We are all aware of the situation, but sport knows no boundaries in our view and we are there to spread the gospel of sport, and in this case the gospel of snooker,” the 71-year-old said.

There are probably half a dozen countries in the world that have human rights issues. Whether you consider that to be a transitional stage of a country’s development or whether you say ‘I am not having anything to do with them’ – I would rather communicate, have conversations and try to move forward.

“Sport can be a conduit for achieving that, given time. But it does take time.

“The fact we are using women referees is a major step forward.

“I am impressed with the attitude of the Saudi government and their investment in sport because they are making a push to make their younger people more active and that can only be beneficial. Sport is an issue that moulds countries together. It forms character in young people. It gives expression and an opportunity to those that may not have it. There is a bigger picture.

“It’s important to realise that every country has their own culture. There will be countries where we don’t agree with their culture and there will be countries that don’t agree with ours.

“So rather than get it over-complicated, I find it is easier for me to concentrate on what I am good at, which is the development of sporting opportunities. And perhaps, part of the by-product of the success of that venture will be a general change that makes everyone feel more comfortable.”

Hearn, who has just passed the 10-year anniversary as chairman of snooker’s commercial arm, wants to double snooker’s current prize pot of £17m in the next 10 years and continue its “globalisation”.

A rebranding from World Snooker to World Snooker Tour is designed to give a new look, “probably following on the lines of the tennis ATP Tour and golf’s PGA Tour” and give “a significant standing within the sporting world”.

Hearn added: “We have had a fascinating and fabulous 10 years. We have woken up this sleeping princess and have done well.

“We have gone from prize money of £3.5m to £17m. There are more tournaments than ever before; we have ticked a lot of boxes.

“The relaunch is a statement that the journey has only just begun. We have achieved all our ambitions in 10 years and now we set ambitions for the next 10. We believe we are a significant player and the future is bright.”

A Saudi spark

Hearn hopes the move into Saudi Arabia will increase competition and bring about “a natural progression” of even bigger and better tournaments.

“We are there to create an infrastructure of snooker via coaching, via academies, through player visits and universities and schools,” said Hearn. “We are trying to motivate a country and the brief of the Saudi government is we want to be more involved in sport generally.”

World number eight Kyren Wilson, 28, told BBC Sport that the huge prize money on offer and snooker’s global development was “great for the players”.

“Going to new places and growing the sport is wonderful,” said the former Masters runner-up.

“The political side and the ethical decisions are not something that I am involved in. That is down to those in control. As players we often live in a snooker bubble.

“The good thing is that the tournament has a long-term plan, with coaching structures and plans in place to get youngsters involved, which is brilliant. Using women referees in Saudi Arabia is also a big step in the right direction.”

Hearn added: “The bigger picture for us is establishing a global footprint. Saudi Arabia is an escalating contract for 10 years so we have a chance to really make a mark in that territory and we hope other territories will follow.

“People have egos and demands and desires and want to show their country to the best possible audience around the world.

“Anthony Joshua went to Saudi Arabia and it had massive ramifications around the world, with other countries coming on and saying ‘what about us?'”

The British heartlands

Hearn insists the traditional snooker strongholds in the UK and Ireland will not be overlooked. The Chinese market is still a key target and India remains a major focus, but the WST will not be “turning eyes away from any opportunity anywhere in the world”.

“We respect the traditional heartlands,” he explained. “We have a lot of support there and they have history. The new markets don’t have history yet, but given time they will do.

“We are looking at the world, not just our parochial attitude with where we have been and come from. Every major sport has followed the same pattern. There is a big market out there and in today’s world it can be quite easily monetised which takes it to the next level in terms of prize money.

“Our job is to maintain our Triple Crown events [the World Championship, the UK Championship and the Masters]. They have so much history that we still have an obligation to make sure they are still of relevance.

“But professional sport is governed by prize money and opportunity, and if we are trying to be an aspirational sport for young people around the world, we have to set our bar high. You are only limited by your own imagination.”

Barry Hearn: “Every player can go or pass”, in theory, yes, practically, if they are under strain ranking wise, no, they can’t and Hearn knows that very well. He’s not a liar, he’s still an hypocrite.

Kyren Wilson: “The political side and the ethical decisions are not something that I am involved in. That is down to those in control. As players we often live in a snooker bubble.” You have children don’t you Kyren? What kind of world do you want for them? You think you are safe? Let me tell you this: your attitude is the same one that allowed the Shoah to happen (*), and other atrocities and disasters as well. Basically, “It’s not my business, it’s not impacting MY life anyway”…. for now.

That said Saudi Arabia opening itself to sport may actually force them into some changes, create a “de facto” mentality opening that they will not be able to control and “close” again. If so, great.

(*) … I can almost hear a good few thinking “what the fuck is the Shoah?”

Reflecting on the decade: the year 2019

2019 belonged to Judd Trump!

Quite incredibly, Judd won six events in 2019, five of them ranking:

  • the 2019 Masters
  • the 2019 Grand Prix
  • the 2019 World Championship
  • the 2019 International Championship
  • the 2019 World Open
  • the 2019 Northern Ireland Open

and he was runner-up at the 2019 Champion of Champions for good measure.

That’s an extraordinary achievement. Over the last year and a bit, Judd played a much more measured game. He’s still  very attacking, but his safety game has improved massively and, above all, he’s much more ready than he was in the past to use it. His attitude is much better and Judd credited his family and in particular his brother Jack for his  improvement and success .

‘My dad is the biggest snooker fan in the world, he watches every single game so just to do it for him and my mum. ‘For the sacrifices they made for me to be able to play every week, travelling across the country, working two jobs, it put it into perspective for me.’

….

Jack Trump has also been singled out as a huge part of his brother’s success after he basically became employed by Judd last year. The brothers live and travel together with Jack providing help, advice and company to his sibling around the world as he prepares for tournaments. Judd explained the arrangement to the BBC after winning the Masters in January: ‘Jack will set the balls up and I will not have any input, I will let him get on with it. He is making me work on things I would not have done myself. ‘I wanted to pot balls all day, but he will put safety and long pots up too. I will do as I am told and he is getting the best out of me.’

After lifting the World Championship trophy less than four months after that Masters triumph, Judd believes it is obvious to see what an impact jack has had on his game. ‘It speaks for itself, with my brother’s help I’ve won the Masters and the World Championship since he moved up so it just goes to show the part he’s played in it,’ said Judd. ‘Obviously my parents have been a massive influence on me my whole career, taking me around everywhere and putting me in this position. To be able to win it for them and them see it is incredible.’

The World Championship provided two unexpected semi-finalists in David Gilbert and Gary Wilson. Both of them were awesome but eventually lost to players with more experience on the biggest stage of all.

The man Judd Trump beat in the final is John Higgins who, at nearly 44, was playing in this third consecutive World Final. Granted, he lost all three but it still is a very remarkable achievement. Judd produced an incredible standard of snooker in that final: he had seven centuries, a new record in World Final. John himself had four centuries.

Neil Robertson had an excellent year as well: he won two ranking events – the 2019 Welsh Open and the 2019 China Open – and one invitational event, the Champion of Champions.  He also made it to two more ranking finals, at the 2019 players Championship and the 2019 Tour Championship

The man who beat Neil in those two finals is Ronnie. 

In the last frame of the Players Championship, he made a century … his 1000th. By winning the Tour Championship he equalled Stephen Hendry’s tally of 36 ranking events and regained the n°1 spot in the rankings for the first time in nearly 10 years!

Ronnie also won the 2019 Shanghai Masters, now an invitational event, winning this event for the fourth time in total, and three in a row.

In addition, Ronnie was runner-up twice, at the 2019 Masters and the 2019 Northern Ireland Open, losing to Judd Trump both times.

The story and pictures of the 2019 Players Championship

The story and pictures of the 2019 Tour Championship.

The story and pictures of the 2019 Shanghai Masters

Objectively, it wasn’t a bad year for Ronnie, but there were some very painful defeats too. The most prominent one came at the 2019 World Championship, where he lost in the last 32 to James Cahill, an amateur (*). Another disappointing result came at the 2019 World Open, where Dominic Dale beat him in the first round. Dominic had never beaten Ronnie in their 27 years of “common” career.

(*) James Cahill was technically an amateur at the 2019 World Championship, but he had been a professional before, fot four seasons, and had been working with Chris Henry during the last year.

Finally, Ding Junhui deserves a mention for winning the 2019 UK Championship. For the last two seasons Ding had looked dispirited and demotivated. He credited his new coach, Django Fung, for rediscovering his love for snooker and helping him getting the most of his practice sessions.

Regarging non main tour events….

Jimmy White won the Seniors World Championship at the Crucible 

wss2019wc-8841

and Mink (Nucharut Wongharuthai) became the first woman to make a 147

 

Reflecting on the decade: the year 2018

THE story of 2018 was without a shadow of a doubt Mark Williams winning the World Championship for the third time, fifteen years after the second. In between he had dropped out of the top 16 (more than once) ,failed to qualify for the Crucible only the previous year, contemplated retirement … before coming back to the elite bracket with the help of Sightright.

Earlier in the season he had won the 2018 German Masters and the 2017 Northern Irelan Open … his first ranking title since the 2011 German Masters.

To say that “Willo” didn’t really believe it would be possible for him to win at the Crucible again is an understatement. Actually he had promised to do his press conference naked if did… and he was true to his word. The only thing that prevented him to go for the full monty was the sponsor presenting him with … a sponsored towel!

Here is the promise

And the fulfilling of it…

That final was unbelievable from start to finish.

Mark then embarked into a season long celebration…

There were other remarkable achievements that year as well:

  • Mark Allen won the 2018 Masters, beating Kyren Wilson in the final. Kyren was so bitterly disappointed that he couldn’t hold back his tears at the end. Later in the year, Mark won the 2018 International Championship and the 2018 Scottish Open.
  • Steve Davis accepted to replace Stephen Hendry in the Seniors Irish Masters in Goffs, and went on to win the event! (story and pictures here)
  • Aaron Canavan, an amateur player from Jersey who has never been a professional and rarely played outside the Channel Islands won the 2018 Seniors World Championship. (story and pictures here)
  • Cliff Thorburn, aged 70, won the 2018 Seniors Masters at the Crucible theatre. (story and pictures here)
  • Jimmy Robertson won his first ranking title, the 2018 European Masters, in Lommel, Belgium. He beat Joe Perry in the final.

2018 was also a terrific year for Ronnie. He won no less than five titles that year, four of them ranking events. He also set up some new records. He became the first player to defend the Shanghai Masters title. He also defended his UK Championship crown. In doing so he became the first player to have won it seven times, beating Steve Davis record of 6 and he also became the first player to have won 19 Triple Crowns, one better than Stephen Hendry 18. 

Ronnie though had another disappointing World Championship, losing in the seconFollowing Mark Williams victory at the world Championship 2018, Ronnie decided to join Sightright.

The story and pictures of the World Grand Prix 2018

The story and pictures of the Players Championship 2018

The story and pictures of the Shanghai Masters 2018

The story and pictures of the Champion of Champions 2018

The story and pictures of the UK Championship 2018

Reflecting on the decade: the year 2017

Crucible2017-MarkSelbyWorldChampion

2017 will be remembered as the year when Mark Selby defended the World Title, winning at the Crucible for the third time in four years. Right before the World Championship, he had won the China Open again. The 2017 World Championship was actually his fifth event win of the 2016/17 season. He truly had been the dominant player that season.

Then over the summer, something happened that derailed Mark’s dominance: he hurt his foot, at home, by dropping a big piece of glass on it and breaking his big toe. Everyone expected him to pick up where he had left it, once healed, but it didn’t happen. Mark won another title in 2017, the International Championship in China, but he didn’t get past the QF in any other ranking event later that year.

As it happened, he has won two more big titles in China since, but it’s only in October this year that he lifted a trophy on home soil again. Mark admitted that, coming back, he had struggled for confidence, and that the support of his close friend Bobby Lee is what had allowed him to get better results in China. Bobby’s friendship and presence had eased the pressure when there.

The highlight of the year for me came at the 2017 German Masters, when Anthony Hamilton aged 46, won his first ranking title, with his parents in the audience. 

Anthony is a terrific break-builder, and well respected by fellow pros. How he hasn’t won more is a mystery. That said he has been plagued by neck and back problems since a number of years, and he’s been tempted to retire many times over the last ten years. It was so bad. His win at the 2017 German Masters was his first professional event win since… 1995. That year he had won the Australian Open and the Australian Masters – both non ranking – beating Chris Small in the final both times.

Anthony’s parents aren’t big snooker fans, and Anthony had only just persuaded them to visit Berlin and, maybe, watch a bit of snooker as well. They had rarely, if ever, come to watch their son play before.

Here is Anthony’s interview  with Worldsnookerafter the match.

And with the Eurosport gang

His win earned “the Sheriff” a spot in the 2017 Champion of Champions. He came to Coventry determined to enjoy it, saying that it could be his last hourrah, as his back and neck injuries had returned. He actually did very well: he beat Ding Junhui and Ryan Day to reach the semi-finals. He wasbeaten at that stage by Ronnie.

Ronnie’s 2017 year wasn’t a bad one either. Once again he won over 80% of the matches he played, won four events, including the Masters and the UK Championsip. It was Ronnie’s 7th Masters, a new record. The UK Championship was his 6th, equalling Steve Davis record and also getting even with Stephen Hendry 18 “Triple Crown” events. 

He was beaten by Ding in the QF of the World Championship. Ding played some oustanding stuff, outplaying Ronnie in the second session. Ronnie battled valliantly in the last session but it wasn’t enough. The pair are good friends, and as Ronnie became emotional at the end of the match, Ding hugged him …

WC2017ROSL18Embrace

The story and pictures of the Masters 2017

The story and pictures of the English Open 2017

The story and pictures of the Shanghai Masters 2017

The story and pictures of the UK Championship 2017

Ronnie’s American Hustle

Reflecting on the decade: the year 2016

Barry Hearn had announced the creation of the Home Nations Series in 2015, but they were effectively played for the first time in 2016/17.

The four tournaments – English Open (Steve Davis Trophy), Northern Ireland Open (Alex Higgins Trophy), Scottish Open (Stephen Hendry Trophy) and Welsh Open (Ray Reardon Trophy) – have identical formats. It’s best of seven up to the last 16 included, best of nine in the QF, best of 11 in the SF and best of 17 in the Final. It’s a flat draw, with the 128 at the venue – no qualifiers – and the draw is random, except for the top 32 who are seeded (top 16 originally). There is a £1000000 bonus for the player who would manage to win all four events in the same season. Now, the concensus is that this is never gonna happen.

With such a format, many predicted shocks and surprise winners. Here  is what happened until now:

Home Nations Series

Except in the first two events, it’s been all the usual suspects lifting the trophies.

One of the distinctive features of the series, is the “Moving Day”, the Thursday when two rounds are played and 32 become just 8. The series is broadcasted by Eurosport;  they do a very nice job of it, both in the studio and in commentary. Ronnie and Jimmy White are part of the team when they are not playing.

The first two events produced first time winners. Here is what it meant to them…

Liang Wenbo

Mark King

It was in 2016 as well that Mark Selby won his second World Title. 

Mark Selby played no less than 109 matches that year, of which he won 84 (77%). He reached the final of an event six times, winning five out of six:

  • the 2016 Gdynia Open
  • the 2016 World Championship (beating Ding by 18-14 in the final)
  • the 2016 Paul Hunter Classic
  • the 2016 International Championship (beating Ding in the final)
  • the 2016 UK Championship (beating Ronnie by 10-7 in the final)

He also reached the final of the Shanghai Masters where he was beaten by … Ding. Amazingly, Ding Junhui played three 15-reds snooker finals that year, and faced Mark Selby in all three! Ding won the 2016 6-reds World Championship.

Ding has always a lot of pressure on his shoulder at the World Championship, the only big title eluding him. It was even worse that year, when he reached the final. He had an absolute nightmare in the first session: he trailed by 6-0 and did really well to take the last two frames of the session. From then on the frames were shared, but Ding never managed to close the gap completely.

Ronnie’s 2016 year was a mixed bag: he won over 80% of the matches he played, reached no less than six finals, but won only two of them

  • the 2016 Championship League Snooker – Runner-up
  • the 2016 Masters – Winner 
  • the 2016 Welsh Open – Winner
  • the 2016 European Open  – Runner-up
  • the 2016 Champion of Champions – Runner-up
  • the 2016 UK Championship – Runner-up

For the story and photos of the 2016 Masters follow this link

For the story and photos of the 2016 Welsh Open follow this link

and yes… that’s when he did THAT 146 against Barry Pinches in the first round.

Ronnie was beaten by Barry Hawkins that year at the Crucible, in the last 16. But the real drama happened in the first round.

Ronnie had a breakdown after beating David Gilbert. Here is what he explained to Desmond Kane (Eurosport) a few months later. He was unable to do his post-match press conference and spent several days in hospital; he showed a lot of courage to come back and play his last 16 match. He still took that match to a decider. He had 11 breaks over 50 in it, including 4 centuries, he outscored his opponent, Barry Hawkins, but still lost as he wasn’t able to win the tactical frames.