Snooker Review 2011 - Part One
After facing rocky times in 2010 partly due to the betting allegations surrounding John Higgins and the less than well recieved first couple of PTC events, Snooker wasn't so much on a decline, more that it wasn't moving in any direction in particular.
The Masters was the first event of the year and it was easy to see that some of the top players were suffering from overburn due to the influx of tournaments in previous months as all the top seeds bar Neil Robertson lost their openining round matches.
In the end we were treated to our first all-Asian major final as Ding Junhui faced Marco Fu and even though it wasn't the most thrilling of finals Ding performed strong in the end which culminated in a 10-4 victory.
This year's Masters was the last one to be staged at Wembley Arena as next month it travels to the home of the PDC World Darts Championship and many other events; Alexandra Palace in London. With an estimated capacity of 1500 and several sessions already sold out including the first round clash between Ding and Ronnie O'Sullivan it will be a fantastic atmosphere no doubt.
January 2011 won't be best remembered for the Masters but more for the exciting new tournament that happend at the end of the year; the Snooker Shoot-out at the Tower Circus in Blackpool.
The one frame a match event which is coming back to Blackpool next month was extremely well recieved by fans and bloggers alike featured all of the top 64 players on the main tour and had unique rules such as each frame lasting only ten minutes and ball in hand after any foul.
Matches such as the one were Neil Robertson made a 37 break in the last 70 seconds of his win against Alan McManus and Rory McLeod fluking the final black against Tony Drago (which also won him magic moment of the year at the World Snooker awards) will be remembered for a long time to come.
The eventual winner turned out to be former British Open champion and veteran campaigner Nigel Bond who beat another surprise contender in the final; Gloucester's Robert Milkins. Even with Ronnie O'Sullivan withdrawing from next month's event, I have no doubt that it will be as successful as last year's staging.
The start of February saw a new ranking event on our screens, the German Masters at the Tempodrom in Berlin. People in Germany and surrounding countries have always been fans of snooker but no one anticpated how well attended this tournament would be.
The earlier rounds saw a unique five-table set up where anyone in the 2500 capacity arena can keep an eye on every match in progress which was great for them. Only problem with this is that many good matches were not broadcasted as there was only one set of cameras for the main table.
Crowds were good throughout the week but the final between Mark Williams and Mark Selby was a complete sell-out and the audience were treated to a brilliant final which the Welshman eventually came out on top winning 10-8.
For me the German Masters was Barry Hearn's biggest success since he became chairman. The interest in Germany has always been there but past boards have failed to act upon it. Now the country has a proper event they can engage with and may it continue for many years to come.
February also saw John Higgins defending his Welsh Open title at Newport. Having lost his father due to cancer during the German Masters he managed to bounce back strong only a few weeks later to go on to win the event, beating fellow Scot Stephen Maguire 9-6 in the final.
We also were treated to Stephen Hendry's 10th maximum break in his second round match against Maguire, equally Ronnie O'Sullivan's tally. Unfortunately for Hendry he went on to lose the match 4-2 but it still shows to everyone he is still one of the best breakbuilders in the game, ten years past his prime.
The month of March started off with the Betfred.com World Championship qualifiers in Sheffield and saw two new faces qualify for the Crucible; On Q Promotions players Andrew Pagett and Jimmy Robertson. Other qualifiers included Matthew Stevens and Dominic Dale who made their first appearances at the Crucible after missing out for several years.
Next up in March was the PTC Grand Finals in Dublin which saw the top 24 players on the Players Tour Championship order of merit compete for the second new ranking event of the season. The best of seven matches produced some shock results including Martin Gould beating Mark Selby in the semi-finals, but unfortunately for the Pinner Potter he was denied his first ranking title by Shaun Murphy who won the match 4-0.
The PTC Grand Finals return again in March in 2012 and will once again be staged in Ireland but this time in Galway. Lets hope the crowds will be better for the earlier rounds this time than they were in Dublin.
The biggest thing March will be remembered for is Judd Trump winning his first full ranking event at the China Open in Beijing.
Judd demolished former world champions Peter Ebdon and Shaun Murphy in earlier rounds then he faced Mark Selby in the final. Both playeris were producing fantastic snooker with six century breaks between them but Judd came out on top to win the match 10-8.
Winning the China Open was a great achievement for Judd but no one would expect him to go on to achieve what he does in the rest of the year...
Just as with every year the month of April (and the first few days of May) is reserved exclusively for the Betfred.com World Snooker Championship at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield and once again we were treated to a tournament that wouldn't be forgotten in a while.
It started off with a bang as recent China Open champion Judd Trump beat the defending champion Neil Robertson 10-8 in the first match of the tournament. Seven-times king of the Crucible Stephen Hendry contemplated retirement at the start of the tournament due a string of bad results but winning his first round match 10-9 against Joe Perry saw him finish inside the top 16 and he remained on the main tour for the next season.
Ding Junhui progressed past the second round of the world championship for the first time of his career were he met Judd Trump in the semi-final who himself beat former world champion Graeme Dott 13-5 in the quarters. It was a thrilling encounter between the two, watched by many millions in China and around the world but the young man from Bristol eventually got the better of Ding with a 17-15 victory.
Mark Williams produced his best performance at the Crucible for many years, comfortably beating Ryan Day, Jamie Cope and Mark Allen to set up a semi-final clash with the UK & Welsh champion John Higgins who had beat a resurgent Ronnie O'Sullivan 10-13 in the quarters. Williams was the stronger of the two in the first session but Higgins hit back hard in the final one to win 17-14 to reach his fifth world final in five years.
Trump and Higgins were treated to a fantastic reception from the crowd as they walked on for the final and the punters were not disappointed as Judd took a 10-7 lead after the first days play, but in the end, Judd couldn't keep up his high potting percentage and John eventually came out a 18-15 winner to claim his fourth world title.
In the modern era only Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis and Ray Reardon have won more world titles than Higgins and with three of his four world titles having come in the last five years, who's not to say that he can't win at least one more in the next few years?
May also saw the debut of the World Snooker Q School in which amateurs and professionals dropping off the tour at the end of the season compete for 12 places on the main tour for the proceeding season. To see who made it through check out the Q School page.
The unofficial start to the 2011/2012 season was the Pink Ribbon tournament at the South West Snooker Academy, Gloucester. The annual charity event is probably the biggest pro-am in the world and this year's event was won by former UK quarter-finalist Mark Joyce. See photos of some of the players here.
June also saw the first PTC event of the season as Ronnie O'Sullivan looked to be back to good form as he dominated his matches and eventually would go on to beat Joe Perry 4-0 in the final.
Second part to follow soon!