Reflecting on the decade: the year 2015

Thinking ahead of this article, I realised that 2015 turned out to be a rather stranger year in snooker. Neither Mark Selby, nor Ronnie had a great year. Those two had basically dominated the three previous years.

Mark Selby still won two ranking events: the 2015 German Masters and the 2015 China Open. He then went to the Crucible as defending champion, and lost in the last 16, by 13-9 to Anthony McGill. In the first round he only narrowly beat Kurt Maflin by 10-9. Mark hinted that going all the way in the China Open had taken a lot out of him. However, the rest of the year wasn’t great either: he played in 10 more events, and on 6 occasions lost in the last 16 or earlier.

Ronnie didn’t win anything that year, in fact he didn’t play much. He entered 8 events, withdrawing from two of them (the Championship League Snooker and the China Open). he reached the semi final at the Masters 2015, the final at the World Grand Prix 2015, the quarter finals at the German Masters 2015 and at the World Championship 2015, where he lost to Stuart Bingham. I remember vividly how tense and irritable he was during the spring of 2015, kicking photographs out of the arena and being upset at about everything. He didn’t play at all that year after the World Championship, except in the Pink Ribbon, the charity event organised by Paul Mount at the SWSA. He won that one and you can see all the pictures and read the story here.  But he didn’t enter anything else, didn’t defend either his Champion of Champions crown, or his UK Championship crown.

John Higgins won three ranking events that year: the Welsh Open 2015, the Australian Open 2015 and the International Championship 2015 but otherwise didn’t really perform to his best. Despite winning  those three ranking events, where obviously he was undefeated, he only won 66% of his matches over the year.

Stuart Bingham was the surpise winner of the 2015 World Championship.

He wasn’t even on the poster! Back then Stuart was seen by most as a very capable journeyman, not champion’s material. However that year he had started working with Steve Feeney, Mister Sightright. It made a massive difference.

Worldsnooker has very recently published an article about the Sightright method

Working with all-time greats, rejuvenating careers and sparking ascensions to the summit of the sport: Steve Feeney has made an undeniable impact as coach for some of the World Snooker Tour’s top players

The pioneering coach has convinced high profile figures in golf and darts, as well as snooker, to adopt his SightRight method. The key objective is to eliminate parallax error, an optical illusion caused by looking across the line of aim. Feeney aims to overcome this by finding a player’s perfect point of alignment, from which their technique can be built or moulded.

Feeney explains: “I have people coming to me who are playing with their right leg on line, the way they have always been coached, when they are left eye dominant. It doesn’t take much to figure out that is a mismatch. Once these corrections are made and a player arrives at the stage of perfect sighting and alignment it is like adding a sighting scope to a gun. The player now has the sight to aim through. Everybody can sight a straight line of aim perfectly when they are shown how.”

The governing body’s WPBSA World Snooker Coaching Scheme neither endorses or disagrees with SightRight’s ideas on alignment methods. Therefore, SightRight is not yet seen officially as a definitive technique. Six-time World Champion Steve Davis, one of the advisors to the WPBSA World Snooker coaching set-up, believes there may be more to Feeney’s coaching than just the mechanics.

Davis said: “Working with top class sports people is partly about whether or not you can get them to be inspired. You are dealing with people who are so talented that something which can inspire them, whether it be a new putter or a new cue, can bring out enthusiasm that wasn’t there. It isn’t always technical, it can just be a change of outlook on a daily basis. I would say, for me, the jury is out on whether SightRight is brilliant or fundamentally flawed. The WPBSA hasn’t come across anyone qualified to give a definitive answer on the theory surrounding this subject. However, in essence it doesn’t really matter, because it is whether the player believes in it.”

Feeney was coaching Stuart Bingham when he won the world title in 2015 and currently works with three-time Crucible king Mark Williams. The Welshman apportioned a huge amount of credit to Feeney for his 2018 Crucible win, which was his first World Championship victory since 2003.

Subsequently, Feeney has enhanced his already illustrious resumé by becoming coach of snooker’s biggest name, 36-time ranking event winner Ronnie O’Sullivan. For many, the idea of coaching a player widely regarded as the greatest to ever lift a cue would be a daunting one. However, Feeney doesn’t appear to have been afflicted by any form of apprehension in working with the Rocket.

He said: “I have always maintained that in the world of golf I could stand in front of Tiger Woods and coach him as if I was coaching an amateur. Once you get an opportunity with someone, no matter who they are, when you get up in front of them and prove that they are sighting off line, then you already have the upper hand.

“When I started working with Ronnie it was the greatest of privileges and the greatest of honours. However, I knew he wasn’t bang on line. Working with him didn’t faze me at all. You have to try and remember that from Mark Williams to David Gilbert to Ronnie O’Sullivan, your job with all of these people is to help them play the greatest game they can play. I was more aware of this responsibility with Ronnie though. If suddenly something went wrong, then I could be the person that ruined his game. Ronnie is a perfectionist, he knew he could improve parts of his game.

“When Ronnie first approached me, Mark Williams really encouraged me to do it. I have the greatest respect and allegiance for Mark. For him to say that was amazing. I had a discussion with him when I was first approached, and he was fully behind it.”

Feeney believes that his work with snooker’s finest proves that even the tour’s top players can be susceptible to sighting errors. When observing on the circuit, he doesn’t limit his analysis to just the players currently in his team.

“I study all of the players. That is my job,” said Feeney. “I know in my mind who is bang on, close or totally off line. I can pick players like Mark Selby, Neil Robertson or Judd Trump and I know whether they have alignment errors. It doesn’t stop them winning either way of course.”

One of the most dramatic success stories of Feeney’s time working on the circuit is world number 11 David Gilbert. The pair started working together at the beginning of last season and since then Gilbert has reached four ranking event finals, graced the one-table set up at the Crucible by making the World Championship semi-finals and broken into the world’s top 16 for the first time.

Just a few years earlier, Gilbert was sleeping on a friend’s sofa, having dropped off the circuit. The Tamworth cueman fared more successfully after returning to the tour, but still felt that he wasn’t reaching his potential and opted to take a leap of faith with SightRight.

Gilbert said: “When I signed up I didn’t know what I was agreeing to. I was going in blind so to speak. Steve promised that he could help me. It was worth a try, because it was obvious to me things weren’t going well. I was hitting shots that I thought were good and they were terrible. It can do your head in eventually. I was in the top 32 of the world and making a living, but I thought I would be happier doing something else to be honest. I was beginning to wonder if it was worth it. Things had really got me down so I had to try something.

“I kind of knew I had a technical fault, I just didn’t know what it was. Within five or ten minutes he had shown me what my big faults were. It showed me that maybe I wasn’t as bad as I thought I was and that I had a fundamental problem. That instantly gave me something to work on and I’m still working on it now. I don’t quite see the ball the way Steve wants me to 100% of the time. Sometimes I can ‘lose the line’ as he puts it. However, it is great having him at the tournaments and usually he can fix things pretty quickly. Steve has helped me tremendously. I used to just hit balls when I was practising. Now I have something to work at and try to improve. Practice isn’t a chore any more. I enjoy it.”

Stuart played extremely well all championship, Having beaten Graeme Doot in the last 16, Ronnie in the QF, he got the better of Judd Trump in a deciding frame in the SF, and finally beat Shaun Murphy by 18-15 in the final, having trailed 0-3 and 4-8. It was a very high quality match and very entertaining as well.

For me that championship was also a special moment as my friend, and fellow Belgian, Olivier Marteel reffed the Final.

 

Interesting article by Worldsnooker on the psychology of winning

They published this yesterday:

Snooker is a sport inextricably bound with nerve shredding tension and psychological pressure. Never is that more apparent than when a player is on the verge of victory.

Commentator Clive Everton coined the phrase ‘Clincher’s Disease’ to describe the affliction a player might suffer in those crucial moments where he is trying to close out the match. He might have performed at the peak of his ability to get to the verge of victory, but he becomes aware that if he fails to pot those last few balls, his previous efforts will count for nothing.

Devastating collapses and colossal fightbacks seem to occur more in snooker than any other sport. In a football match, if one team is 3-0 ahead with five minutes to go, they can run down the clock until time is up. But in snooker, no matter how significant a player’s lead, he still needs to win one more frame before the handshake. And that’s when anxiety can take hold, as he considers the psychological consequences of blowing his advantage.

There have been countless examples of players letting seemingly unassailable advantages slip. Ken Doherty trailed Paul Hunter 15-9 in their 2003 World Championship semi-final, but eventually emerged a 17-16 winner. Mike Hallett led Stephen Hendry 8-2 in the 1991 Masters final, before the Scot stormed back to win 9-8.

And the most famous of all: Dennis Taylor trailed Steve Davis 8-0 in the early stages of the 1985 World Championship final, before winning 18-17 on the last black in the deciding frame, as 18.5 million television viewers followed the epic drama until nearly 1am.

Davis may have buckled in the vital moments on that occasion, but for much of his career he was a ruthless finisher of matches as he accumulated 28 ranking titles including six Crucible crowns.

The key to fulfil your potential, Davis once said, is to play as if it means nothing, when in fact it means everything. To achieve that zen like state, one must avoid thoughts of what has gone before and what could be to come.

“There is a lot you have to forget and there is a lot you have to remove from your mind,” said Davis. “You have to forget about press conferences, commentators and the fact that everybody is getting ready backstage for the match to finish.

“Towards the end of a Crucible final you can sense that things are going on behind the curtain. You know they are all bunched up backstage, ready to come out on to the arena floor. Everyone is going crazy around you and you need to be the calmest one. I was naturally good at being able to do that.

“When you are one frame away from winning you are in a zone where some people are able to keep the wolves at bay and others aren’t. The key is to be able to forget any bad shots or anything that has happened in the past, that has no relevance to what you need to do now.

“Obviously this gets easier with time. The first tournament win or the first in a particular event is obviously the hardest. The bigger the prize, the more the pressure builds up. You just have to be able to climb that ladder and cope with the dizzy heights.”

Chris Henry has coached snooker greats such as Stephen Hendry and Shaun Murphy, as well as golfers Lee Westwood and Rafael Cabrera Bello. His approach is based on neural science: repetition and habit help the brain to normalise potentially difficult situations. The aim is to make the conscious act of playing a sport into a subconscious one. He also believes that a player’s subconscious psyche can be the source of negative thoughts.

“Once a player gets towards the finishing line they may start thinking about the outcome and what we call future thinking,” explained Henry. “Their emotional state changes and they start to feel different. We know snooker is a high skill sport and there is a fine line between playing great and not playing well. If you feel emotionally different then your muscles and technique react differently as well. The backswing can change and the cue ball physics are different.

“Most of these thoughts are happening subconsciously. So for the most part it is out of a player’s control. You can consciously try to override it, but that is very difficult. Repetition of thoughts can help the brain to be more prepared for when situations arise. This all goes on in an interesting part of the brain, because it doesn’t know the difference between fantasy and reality. That means that you can create memory files in preparation for something happening and aim to be a bit more comfortable.

“Stephen Hendry was phenomenal. I coached him for seven years and his levels of concentration and focus were unbelievable. He was like a cat watching the mouse. You couldn’t distract him and he was very unemotional. His emotional states were on a pretty flat line. That is perfect for sport. The more you can keep on an even keel emotionally the better. He genuinely believed he was going to win every match and through his aggressive playing style he felt superior. That also intimidated other players.”

Last season’s Shoot Out runner-up Michael Holt is among the most experienced players on the circuit, having been a professional for 23 years. Having witnessed countless personalities and characters on the tour over the years, he has learned that there is no single formula for success in pressure cooker situations. Holt feels that each player has their own unique way of handling the approach to the finish line.

He said: “Neil Robertson is a fantastic example. Away from snooker he collects his Warhammer figures and can sit painting them for hours. He is the same in the snooker arena. That is his mentality. I’m a thinker and can’t switch off. Neil has a great ability to focus on one thing and stay in the moment. Obviously he has a great technique and is very talented. But there are a lot of people like that. Mentally he is incredible.

“I’ve met a lot of the great champions. Mark Williams is one extreme. He will tell everyone he doesn’t care and isn’t bothered. We all know he is, but that is how he gets himself past the line. Whereas Peter Ebdon is very focussed and driven. People look for inspiration from the champions, but their mentality might not suit an individual, so doing that is a waste of time. You need to look inside yourself and think about what will work for you.”

Phil Yates has been working on the circuit as a commentator for over 30 years and has become accustomed to reading the signs of capitulation on the table.

Yates said: “I’m not going to mention any names, but you know the guys who are more likely to falter when they have a big lead. You know who is most susceptible as it really does tend to be a recurring pattern. Players say in press conferences that past experiences don’t impact on how they think. They do. Even if you don’t consciously think about it. That is simply human nature. There is definitely a pattern which develops over the years with players who are more likely to suffer from it.

“One of the best recent examples of overcoming that is Judd Trump. He had some really difficult defeats two seasons ago. None more so than when he led Kyren Wilson 5-2 in the Masters semi-finals and lost 6-5. I thought that would have a big impact. However, it couldn’t have been any more different. He has come back and had the best year of his life and reached the pinnacle of the sport by becoming World Champion. It just shows that even if it is difficult to do so, you can overcome potential mental scars.”

Confidence in my opinion plays a big role. Chris Henry is cited above, telling how confident Hendry was in his prime. He believed he could win every match. But those, like me, who have watched him in the last years of his career, will remember how often he started a match playing well,  missed one shot and that turned the match as his game seemed to disintegrate completely.

Confidence comes with winning, but winning isn’t enough. Both Mark Selby and Ronnie are great champions, and serial winners, but aren’t naturally confident persons. Maybe in both cases, it’s linked to rather traumatic experiences during their childhood and teenagers years. Both are sensitive persons, prone to anxiety, very far from the “emotional flatness” that Chris Henry mentions about Hendry. Ronnie tends to express it in various ways, Mark tends to try to bottle it. Ronnie has grown into an ultra perfectionist who tends to run away or self-punish//sabotage when he can’t sustain the – often unrealistic – level of performance he sets for himself. Less so nowadays than in the past, but he still does. Mark tends to go into his shell, overthink and turn negative, this despite knowing full well that he plays better when he plays faster, with more freedom. It’s all the more remarkable that they have achieved so much.

Reflecting on the decade: the year 2014

The big 2014 story was Mark Selby’s victory at the Crucible. He beat Ronnie O’Sullivan in the final by 18-14, having trailed 10-5. It was an amazing achievement.

Ronnie largely dominated the first day. The match basically turned on one ball. Leading by 10-5, Ronnie missed a black off the spot early in frame 16 and Mark took full advantage. Mark then won the next frame as well, finishing the session “only” 10-7 behind. It was obvious right away that Ronnie was very annoyed with himself because of this miss.

The next day, Mark came back fighting – as he does – and put Ronnie in all sorts of trouble. Ronnie chose to try and continue to attack. It didn’t work. He was outplayed on that day. He was criticised for not changing his approach to the match, but I think that’s unfair. He wasn’t going to beat Selby at Selby’s game. On another day, things might have clicked together at some point, that day it didn’t happen.

In that match, Ronnie had 9 breaks over 50, including 3 centuries. Mark had just one century, but he still won with a bit in hand.

Mark deserves a lot of credit for never giving up, and keeping the belief that he could still win. He showed a lot of heart and determination and was a worthy winner.

MarkSelby2014WC

Mark had a very difficult childhood and youth.  His mother abandonned him and his brother when they were only kids. His father took care of them, but died from cancer when Mark was only 16. His brother and himself lost their house.

Mark’s father loved his snooker. When his father became critically ill, Mark made him the promise to become World Champion one day. He kept his promise. It’s an inspiring story that was told in this moving documentary:

Mark Selby Life Story Documentary

The World Championship was the only full ranking event that Mark won that year, a year during which he had won 52 matches, out of 74 (70%)

The man he had beaten at the World Championship, Ronnie, had a much more succesful year overall. He had won 34 of the 40 matches he had played (85%).

He had won the 2014 Masters at the start of the year. He did beat Mark Selby by 10-4 on that occasion.

The Masters 2014 Photo Gallery

He then won the 2014 Welsh Open, the last one to be played in Newport, beating Ding Junhui by 9-3, and finishing the match with a 147.

The Welsh Open 2014 Photo Gallery

And here is Ronnie’s 147 to win the Final. It was his farewell gift to the Newport crowd.

He came to the 2014 World Championship as defending Champion and reached the final.

In the autumn 2014, he defended his Champion of Champions title.

The Champion of Champions 2014 Photo Gallery

And he finished the year, by winning the 2014 UK Championship, beating Judd Trump by 10-9 in an epic final. He played the whole tournament with a broken ankle. In the last 16, he made another 147, in the last frame of his match against Matthew Selt.

The UK Championship 2014 Photo Gallery

Ronnie’s 147 to finish off Matt Selt in the last 16

But all that didn’t really matter. Mark Selby was the World Champion and that defeat did hurt. Ronnie downplayed his disappointment in his postmatch interview, but he couldn’t bear to stay in Sheffield even for one more night. He took his car and drove back home, in the night and the rain. He had a car accident. Fortunately, neither him, nor his young son who was with him were hurt. But he shouldn’t have been driving that night, and, if he wasn’t thinking clearly enough to realise that, someone should have stopped him. Also, he’s never been past the QF at the Crucible since this defeat, and my feeling is that he’s apprehensive and low on confidence going there. That defeat left scars.

2014 was also the year when Ronnie started working wit Eurosport.

The “other story” of 2014 was about Neil Robertson “century of centuries”. 

Neil managed an incredible 103 centuries over the 2013/2014 season, and the 100th one came in 2014, at the Crucible, during his Quarter Final match against Judd Trump. Neil was “helped” by the fact that he played in four different groups at the Championship League Snooker, but even so it was a truly remarkable achievement that Neil celebrated quite quite wildly…

Neil Robertson 100th century of the 2013/2014 season, came in the 2014 World Championship Quarter Finals against Judd Trump … who duly appreciated his opponent’s achievement.

Reflecting on the decade: the year 2013

2013 will be remembered as the year when Ronnie O’Sullivan won the world Championship – actually defended the title  – after taking the whole season off. 

At the end of 2012, Ronnie, the reigning world Champion, was in retirement and there was no certainty that he would come back to play professionally again. However, in January 2013, he popped up at the Masters, admitting that he was missing the people around the tournaments, although he wasn’t missing snooker itself.

Shortly before the Masters, in an interview with the written press, he had admitted that he was getting bored staying at home and that he was going voluntary work in a farm…

Ronnie O’Sullivan has revealed he has been spending his time labouring on a farm for free as he continues his sabbatical break from snooker.’Rocket’ Ronnie won his fourth world title last year before announcing he would be taking a break from the sport to spend time with his children and to help him cope with the depression problems he has suffered from throughout his 20-year career.

And as the world’s greatest prepare for next week’s Betfair Masters tournament at Alexandra Palace, the 37-year-old has told of how he has found a new lease of life helping out at a smallholding farm in Epping Forest three days a week.’I have been doing voluntary work on a farm,’ the 37-year-old told The Times.’I have been doing about three days a week and really enjoying it. It has been kind of the complete opposite to what I was going through the last couple of years in snooker.’The farm has got sheep, pigs, cows, goats, chickens, horses… and I have been getting the old green wellies on. I have been cleaning out stables and pigsties, taking down fences, putting rubbish into barrels and lorries and clearing mud.

‘I was getting so bored I had to do something, and needed a goal to get out of bed in the morning. I didn’t want stress, as that was what made me pull out of snooker, so I decided to go out and do something unpaid to help people out. I meet a lot of people there and I am very happy to do it.’It all happened when I ran past it; I got talking to the farmers and we fixed up that I would do some helping out.

‘O’Sullivan added: ‘I get there about 8am, do my three or four-mile run first because it is right in the forest, then come back and do about six hours work.’It has been kind of the opposite to what I was going through in snooker and I am really enjoying it.’O’Sullivan has been offered the chance to defend his world title in April by World Snooker chief Barry Hearn despite his ranking being too low to qualify for the tournament.The Chigwell-based potter revealed that he has still been playing snooker in his spare time, but he has not yet made a decision whether to appear at the Crucible.

He was in a better shape then, than when I had seen him at an exhibition with Stephen Hendry in Bruges (Belgium) towards the end of 2012. He was very low that time, and told me that he hadn’t been able to see his kids properly for weeks as the battle in court continued with his ex.

So, it wasn’t that much of a surprise when, end February, he announced that he would come back at the Crucible to defend his title

‘I didn’t realise how much a part of my life it was’
World champion has been practising with a takeaway driver

 

If Ronnie O’Sullivan pulls off an achievement he says would rank alongside his greatest in snooker, in returning to the sport after a year away to retain his world championship title, then his Chinese takeaway delivery driver will be entitled to an extra tip.

Claiming to have played “probably 10 days in nine months”, he did admit that the man who delivers his dinner had been roped in for some practice sessions, during which he realised he was hitting breaks of 80 or 90 and thought: “Wow, I’m playing OK”.

He said: “It was only practice and I wasn’t playing anyone any good, just my mate who is a Chinese takeaway delivery driver. He delivers, that’s all he does, he’s not a snooker player. He comes round and plays me in the day, and then delivers Chinese food in the evening. His name is Alex and he’s a good lad.” His food, incidentally, is also “very good”.

The 37-year-old has played only one competitive match since lifting the world championship in May – a lacklustre defeat to the lowly-ranked Simon Bedford in September. In November he announced plans for a year-long sabbatical, sparking renewed speculation the most gifted player of his generation would retire altogether. But his decision to defend his title, ensuring he retains his ranking points and does not have to return to the massed ranks of the qualifiers for major tournaments, marks another eye-catching U-turn from a career littered with them.

Ever the contrarian, O’Sullivan said that he realised he could not live without the game and that there was more to life than snooker. More than anything, he says, he was “bored” of rising in mid-morning and spending his days out to lunch.

“Boredom was a big factor. I missed travelling. I didn’t realise how much a part of my life it was. I missed the playing.”

O’Sullivan, whose rollercoaster career has included bouts of depression, illness and fits of pique alongside dizzying brilliance and a charisma that left the game yearning for his return, also said that his time away from snooker had left him with a better perspective on the part it played in his life.

“I had a nice year out. I had a lot of fun and I needed the rest. I just thought it was time to get back to doing what I’ve done for a lot of my life. I have a different perspective on it now,” said the four-time world champion.

“I moaned about the pressures and not playing well but I thought two or three months ago: ‘I’d take that back like a shot now’. Hopefully I won’t be as hard on myself, hopefully I will enjoy it more and enjoy playing rather than putting myself under pressure in tournaments to succeed.”

Which is not to say that he did not enjoy his time off. Asked what he had been up to, he smiled and drew a discreet veil: “You don’t want to know mate. Trust me. It has been good, though. Very good.”

“Personal issues” that played a part in his sabbatical remain unresolved and undiscussed publicly. He deflected all questions about his private life, pointing instead to his new book that will come out in the autumn and would, he said, allow him to explain the saga “in context”.

“I’m all right. I am here to talk about snooker, not my private life. I need to grow some shoulders, roll my sleeves up and have a go. I will give it my best and see what the outcome is,” he said.

As he spoke, O’Sullivan was surrounded by paraphernalia from his new sponsors – a company whose portfolio appears to range from vodka to water purification systems and will soon launch an energy drink called “Roket Fuel”. He was flanked by his friend Jimmy White, who is a “global ambassador” for the company.

Afterwards White, who reckoned O’Sullivan may have been hustling a little in playing down the extent to which he had been practicing, said he would be training with him in the six weeks they had left before they got to Sheffield. The defending champion will return to the Crucible on 20 April as the No1 seed and as such should be able to play his way into the tournament.

For all that he flits between showmanship and shyness, White said O’Sullivan’s abundant talent should not obscure his capacity for hard work, predicting that he would go on to beat Stephen Hendry’s record of seven world titles.

“They’re different animals. Hendry had the killer instinct and the dedication, but Ronnie has been away partying and doing what he wanted to do in life. But now it’s time to prove what he’s got. He’s had every head guru there is, but at the end of the day he knows it’s just down to himself.”

World Snooker impresario, Barry Hearn, was also predictably delighted about the return of his No1 box office draw. Bookmakers immediately installed him as 10-1 fifth favourite – but also offered 2-1 that he would walk away from the professional table again by the end of the year.

O’Sullivan predicted his return would form the basis for a fresh phase of his career that could last “two or three” or even “seven or eight” years. On the other hand, he conceded, it could all end tomorrow.

“I just need to get back to potting some balls and getting back to winning. Snooker is a means to an end. You only get one life, I want to make the most of it.”

It wasn’t all that simple though. With the decision, the pressure returned and, a couple of weeks before the Crucible, his manager told me that Ronnie was very edgy and anxious at the prospect of playing on the biggest stage of all after such a long break.

To be fair, nobody knew what to expect at the start of the championship. Being the defending champion, Ronnie was due to play in the first and last session on the first day. He faced Marcus Campbell and beat him convincingly. He then beat Ali Carter and Stuart Bingham comfortably, to set up a clash with Judd Trump, a player who, already then, had a good record against him. Ronnie beat him 17-11. The final against Barry Hawkins was a match of the highest quality. Barry stayed with Ronnie for the best of three sessions, but Ronnie found an extra gear and finished in style: a 18-12 win. Between them they had 24 breaks over 50, including 8 centuries, 6 from Ronnie and 2 from Barry.

Once again, Ronnie celebrated with his family, and Jason Francis who had been helping him since the start of the year and had secured a sponsor for him.

The whole World Championship 2013 photo gallery is here

Ronnie was the World Champion again, but, as he had not played for  full year (except a low profile match that he had lost) his ranking had suffered, and he started the 2013/14 ranked as low as 27. He was guaranteed to be seed n°1 at the 2014 World Championship but needed to play to avoid big problems the next season. He also had committed to his sponsor demand that he would play in a number of events over the next season.

That’s why he was back playing as soon as early June 2013, in Riga, where he reached the semi finals. He played in no less than six EPTC events that year, winning the 2013 Paul Hunter Classic and being runner-up to Mark Selby at the 2013 Antwerp Open.

In Antwerp, I got to see, close-up, that all the fuss made by fans around the alleged grudge and needle between Ronnie and Marc was well exagerated, certainly off the table. Ronnie was extremely tired after the final. His then manager – the disastrous Sony Naas – insisted that they should drive home that night. Ronnie wasn’t up for it, saying it would be dangerous for him to drive in that state of tiredness. But Sony was adamant that they should go back that night. Mark Selby stepped in, volunteering to drive Ronnie’s car with Sony, whilst his wife, Vicky would drive their own car. He was going well out of his way doing this, because Ronnie and Sonny were due to take the Eurotunnel, whilst the Selby family was going to catch a ferry and the schedules were different. Ronnie thanked Mark warmly but refused. He told Sony, very firmly, that they would find a hotel in Antwerp and travel the next day.

Ronnie also won the first instalment of the revived “Champion of Champions”, beating Stuart Bingham by 10-8 in the final.

The whole Champion of Champions 2013 photo gallery is here

The year ended on a minor disappointment, as the Stuart Bingham took revenge by beating him by 6-4 in the QF of the 2013 UK Championship.

Ronnie still had won nearly 85% of the matches he’d played over the year and, in Sheffield, done something that was deemed impossible. He was still snubbed by the BBC when SPOTY time came at the end of the year.

2020 German Masters and WSF events – Draws

Those have been published yesterday:

Draw and Format for the 2020 German Masters

The draw and format for the final stages of the BetVictor German Masters at the Tempodrom in Berlin is now available.

The event will be played from January 29th to February 2nd.

Click here for the draw

Click here for the provisional format

Draws for the WSF events in Malta

WSF Junior Open / WSF Open 2020 – Draws Released

28th December 2019

The group stage draws have today been released for the WSF Junior Open and WSF Open tournaments to be played in Malta from 4-17 January 2020.

Organised by the World Snooker Federation (WSF), together with the Malta Billiards and Snooker Federation (MBSA), the prestigious tournaments have attracted over 200 entries from players of 40 nationalities.

To be staged across two venues, the db San Antonio Hotel and the Malta Snooker Academy, each open competition has a diverse field including former professionals, future stars, players with disabilities and female players.

As well as the honour of becoming champion for 2020, the winner of each competition will also earn a coveted two-year card to the professional World Snooker Tour from the start of the 2020/21 season.

Jason Ferguson, WSF President said: “I am delighted by the level of entries that we have received from players across the globe for our upcoming tournaments in Malta.

“In the junior competition we see young players who are the future of our sport and it is crucial that we are able to provide opportunities such as this to allow them to qualify for the professional circuit and achieve their dream. Several of these players have already begun to make a name for themselves in important tournaments and I am excited to see who will emerge victorious.

“The Open tournament also as an equally intriguing field which includes a mix of familiar and new faces. Whether it is a former professional hoping to earn another chance at the main tour, or a new winner such as our previous champion Luo Honghao, who has since gone on to make an impact at the highest level, this year’s winner in Malta will have fully earned their opportunity.

“I would like to wish all of the players competing the best of luck in Malta and also to thank our wonderful hosts at the MBSA for all of their hard work and support so far.”

Further information, including the full match schedule will be sent to players over the next few days.

That’s 55 entries for the junior event, that’s not bad at all. Some are as young as only 12. Amongst then Bulcsú Révész who I have seen play in an exhibition in Budapest when he was 10. He was already a good potter but of course, at that age, the tactical side of the game was quite rudimentary. There are also 4 Belgians in the draw; Ben Mertens and Julien Leclerc could do some damage.

There are a few interesting names in the “Main” event as well, that has 158 entries if I counted correctly. It’s a good line-up. Those who follow the seniors tour (WSS) and disability tour (WDBS) will recognise several names. I’m particularly please to see disability players there, eager to compete with ablebodied players.

A number of juniors have entered both events. Amongst them Iulian Boiko, Ben Mertens and Julien Leclerc.

As you would expect, you also have a good number of former pros, notably Jamie Jones whose ban has now come to an end. Also in the draw is Tony Drago, who wasn’t able to compete in the inaugural event because of ill health.

Good luck to all.

Reflecting on the decade: the year 2012

2012 was the year when the Rocket, came back from the darkness, shone bright in the sky of Sheffield and disappeared again. It was also the year when Stephen Hendry retired.

Ronnie started the year 2012 ranked n°16 and in very serious danger to have to qualify for the World Championship. He had started to work with Steve Peters just before the 2011 World Championship after a a couple of desastrous seasons, and he was in a slightly better place mentally, but his health wasn’t great. He was suffering from a serious bout of glandular fever and felt drained. Just before the 2011 UK Championship he had collapsed in his hotel room after a match, and had come to York in poor health. He had narrowly lost to Judd Trump in the second round. And 2012 didn’t start well either: he was beaten by Judd Trump again, in round two again, at the 2012 Masters.

The next event for Ronnie was the 2012 German Masters and it was basically a “must win” if he wanted to avoid to have to qualify for the Crucible. Damian Hirst had come with him to Berlin … in his private jet. Ronnie’s first opponent was Andrew Higginson, a very capable player, ranked 19th at the time. Andrew lead 4-0 … in a best of 9. Ronnie had scored only 7 points in the first three frames, then lost the fourth on the final pink. It was looking very grim for Ronnie. After the MSI though, Ronnie turned the match on its head… you can watch the last five frames here:

After that, Ronnie went on to win the tournament, beating Joe Perry, Matthew Stevens, Stephen Lee, and Stephen Maguire on hiw way to the title. It was his first ranking title since the 2009 Shanghai Masters, nearly two and a half years earler.

You can enjoy the pictures (Ronnie’s matches) I took then by following this link

Yet, Ronnie hadn’t done enough to be safe ranking wise. Despite being clearly exhausted, he pushed further in the 2012 Welsh Open, reaching the semi finals, where he lost to Mark Selby. That secured his Crucible spot, but at a huge prize: right after the semi final, his glandular fever got so bad that he had to be taken to hospital for treatment. He subsequently withdrew from the 2012 World Open and 2012 PTC Grand Final.

When Ronnie arrived at the Crucible, seeded 14, nobody was giving him much of a chance to lift the trophy, and he was to face Peter Ebdon in the first round… but against all odds, he beat Peter Ebdon comprehensively, then Mark Williams, Neil Robertson, Matthew Stevens and Ali Carter to win the World Championship for the fourth time.

Ronnie had his young son watching him, and became very emotional towards the end. To date, he rates this title as his best moment in his snooker career.

All the pictures I took a the 2012 Championship (Ronnie’s matches) are here

After that win Ronnie announced that he was going to take a long break from snooker.

As it happened, he only played one other match that year, a match he lost to Simon Betford at the South West Snooker Academy. During that summer, Ronnie broke his foot, whilst running in the woods, and met his partner Laila Rouass. He also refused to sign the new players contract, that he thought was overly demanding on the players. Actually, he wasn’t entirely wrong, and other players at the time told me they were feeling the same but couldn’t afford not to play for financial reasons.  I won’t name names for obvious reasons, but their main issues where about their image rights, and, as self-employed persons, restrictions on events other than main tour they would be able to play in.

Eventually though, Ronnie was persuaded to sign the contract, and entered the PTC event 3, and the International Championship 2012 … from which he withdrew, feeling unable to make the trip. I remember a conversation with Jason Ferguson shortly after Ronnie’s withdrawal, and Jason expressed concerns about Ronnie’s mental health at the time.

Following this withdrawal, Ronnie announced that he was retiring from snooker for the rest of the season

World champion Ronnie O’Sullivan has abandoned plans to return to the snooker tour and will miss the rest of the season.

The 36-year-old has “personal issues which he needs to resolve”, World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn announced today, and that means he will not return until next season at the earliest.

O’Sullivan announced after winning his fourth world title in May that he intended to take six months out from the sport, and although he returned to play in a low-profile Players Tour Championship event in September, he withdrew from last week’s International Championship citing illness.

In a statement, World Snooker announced: “World Snooker has been informed that Ronnie O’Sullivan does not intend to compete on the World Snooker Tour for the remainder of the 2012/13 season.”

Hearn said: “I have spoken to Ronnie and he has decided to withdraw from any events he has entered, and he will not be playing for the rest of this season. He has some personal issues which he needs to resolve and we wish him all the best for the future.” …

The personal issues were related to his “divorce” from his former partner, and the juridic battle over his rights to see his children.

He also had been filming a documentary about his “Life Story” that came out on ITV4 around the same time. You can watch it here:

That documentary hinted at permanent retirement. Part of it had been filmed at the SWSA durint the 2012 PTC event 3.

Stephen Hendry had started the 2011/12 season as ranked n°16, but had quicly dopped out of the elite bracket and after the 2012 Weslh Open was ranked 21th and had to qualify for events. This is a situation he had never found himself into since 1987/88. Needless to say he hated it.

Stephen came to the Crucible as a qualifier, having beaten Yu Delu in the last 48. He beat Stuart Bingham in the last 32, and made a 147 during that match, his 11th and last competitive one.

He then beat john Higgins very comprehensively in the last 16, (13-4)  before being outplayed in the QF by Stephen Maguire who won with a session to spare (13-2).

I will never forget what happened next. Stephen came to the media room for his post match, sat down, and calmly, quietly announced “I have played my last professional match”. Everyone in the room was stunned. Nobody had really seen it coming. Stephen then explained that he had been planning this the whole season. That he had given himself a bit of time to see if he could return to the elite, and having failed to do so, had decided to retire. He didn’t want to continue if he wasn’t able to win.

Here are some quotes by Hendry after the match

‘I’m delighted I made a maximum here, that’s why I was more animated than normal when making it. I was delighted to do it on my last appearance here.’

‘It was not a spur-of-the-moment thing. I thought about it last year but two or three months ago I just decided enough was enough.’

Reflecting on his favourite Crucible memories, Hendry said: ‘I’ve had so many it’s hard to pinpoint special ones.

‘My first win here, obviously the seventh world title, making maximums, I could write a book on the memories I’ve had here.’

He insisted it was not time to shed a tear.

‘No, not really. I’ve never been the most emotional person even when I win.

‘It’s sad that I won’t play here again. I love playing here, but no, it’s a relief as much as anything.’

The next day, the snooker world and the fans payed tribute to the seven times World Champion in the Crucible. He got a standing ovation.

Reflecting on the decade: the year 2011

2011 will remain in the memories as the year Judd Trump came to age and showed his full potential as a player.

Judd had been an exceptional junior: he had won the English Under-13 and Under-15 championship, and, at 14  had reached the World Under-21 Championship semi-finals. He also made a competitive 147 at just 14, becoming the youngest player to do that.

He had turned professional in 2005/06 and had some very good results in his first year as a pro. The next season, he qualified for the final stages of the world championship at the Crucible.

But, after that he didn’t really build on the form of his debut. At the start of 2011, aged 21, he was ranked n°26.

The breakthrough came at the China Open 2011: coming to the main stages as a qualifier he beat Marco Fu, Mark Davis, Peter Ebdon and Shaun Murphy to reach the final, where he beat Mark Selby by 10-8 to win his first ranking event.

It was commonly accepted back then that those who went deep in the China Open, stood no chance in the World Championship. Nobody must have told Judd … He first had to qualify, which he did by beating David Gilbert by 10-4. He was drawn against the defending champion, Neil Robertson, and defeated him by 10-8 on the first day of the Championship. He then beat Martin Gould, Graeme Dott and Ding Junhui to reach the final. During the whole event he played extremely attacking snooker, “naughty snooker” as he branded it. He was a breath of fresh air, both at and off the table. The swag and the fashion statements were not everone’s cup of tea, but he definitely took the Crucible by storm that year.

I have never experienced anything like the atmosphere in the Crucible at the start of the final session that year. I was standing on the floor and still feel goosebumps just remembering it. Judd eventually lost by 18-15 to John Higgins but he had been the star of the tournament.

Judd started the next season ranked 9, a top 16 player for the first time. He finished the year in the best possible way by winning the 2011 UK Championship, his first “Triple Crown” event. He beat Mark Allen by 10-8 in a thrilling final, having defeated Dominic Dale, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Stephen Maguire and Neil Robertson en route.

With a hindsight, it is a bit surprising that it took him another 7+ years before winning another Triple Crown event.

Of course, 2011 was also an important year for John Higgins. John came back from his ban determined to redeem himself at the table and did just that: he won the 2011 World Championship. It had been a terrible year for John Higgins. At the 2011 German Masters, after winning his first round match, he was contacted by family because his father was extremely ill. John immediately left Berlin, but wasn’t able to make it to Scotland in time. When he arrived home, his father had passed away. John’s father had been his n°1 fan and was a familiar figure around tournaments. When John won his fourth – and to date last – World Championship he dedicated it to his late father.