I’ve heard commentators say several times this week that the standard in snooker is ‘higher than ever.’

I disagree, at least at the top level.

There’s no doubt that there is much greater strength in depth on the circuit now compared to, say, 15 years ago. Throughout the ranks, players are capable of very fine performances, although not usually when it comes to the final stages of ranking events.

However, at the top end I would say standards have fallen. Be honest, how many really good performances have there been at the Royal London Watches Grand Prix so far?

Mark Selby and Ding Junhui, yes, but not many others.

Steve Davis spearheaded the rise in standards in the 1980s. Stephen Hendry did the same in the 1990s.

For me, standards peaked a couple of years either side of the millennium, from around 1997 to 2003, where Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Williams, John Higgins, Paul Hunter and Matthew Stevens all produced some of their very best snooker.

O’Sullivan is said to be ‘in a class of his own.’ He himself is embarrassed by this. In his interview after beating in Liang Wenbo in Glasgow earlier this week he said he had only been in the last three ranking finals because ‘everyone else has played rubbish.’

This is going a little far. Ronnie is so good that he win tournaments playing at 75% of his best but doesn’t derive much pleasure from doing so.

When he says he has played badly after apparently excellent performances he is not looking for attention. It's just that he knows he is capable of better.

Ronnie's performance in beating Hendry in the Crucible semi-finals last season stands as one of the great displays of snooker.

But other than that he has only produced his very best stuff in short bursts, yet he is comfortably the best player in the world.

He played his best ever snooker in the 2000/01 season, although he himself believes he was at his best as a teenager.

Let’s put this into context: the standard is still very, very high. It is much higher than it was 20 years ago, perhaps 15 years ago but not ten years ago.

And snooker needs its top stars to start firing. The World Championship final – our showcase – wasn’t much of a spectacle this year even though the event itself was one the best ever.

Standards perhaps dipped because the number of tournaments has fallen (though they are now rising again) but for snooker to catch the general interest, they need to rise again.

Will they? There’s no reason why not.

But it needs several players to raise their games considerably.


Matthew said...

Brilliant, brilliant piece Dave, absolutely could not agree more and I've been saying this myself for at least six months now.

Yes the standard overall is better because now there are far harder first round matches than ever, but at the very top of the game it's not even close.

As you suggest, a few years ago when you have the big four of Hendry/ROS/Higgins/Williams with Hunter, Stevens, Ken, Ebdon all waiting to pounce should they slip up, the standard was as good as it has ever been. Indeed I think it would be hard to expect it ever to be that good again.

Now we really need the likes of Murphy. Maguire, Ding and Selby to step up and show that they are capable of forming a similar group. Personally I'm not sure that they can, though it will be interesting to see.

The fact though that Higgins and Hendry are in my view not playing anywhere near like their best and are still 5/6 in the rankings says it all to me.

Matt@PSB said...

Adding to that, who do you think is capable of stepping up their game another level and raising their game to something like the level of the big four at their peak? If anyone.

Anonymous said...

I think part of the problem is that the "next generation" of players such as Ding, Cope and Allen aren't as good as the generation before i.e. O'Sullivan, Williams, Higgins etc. The newer breed all have major flaws in their game, be it mentally, poor safety, or perhaps lack of confidence when on a bad run.

The big advantage the older brigade have is that they came through when the pro ranks were made "open". Perhaps this needs to happen again.

Anonymous said...

The problem is with Hendry,Higgins and williams no longer the players they once were there is nobody good enough to force O'Sullivan to produce his best snooker on a regular basis in the way that Hendry did at the crucible this year
At the moment the only player anywhere near O'Sullivan is Selby
Although the standard seems to be getting stronger lower down the rankings, I think the standard inside the top 16 is weaker this season then it has been for a long time
I think we have seen evidence of that this week

Anonymous said...

Clearly you are correct in this Dave. There was a time when the winner of every tournament came from Higgins, O'sullivan, Hendry, Williams, Stevens, Hunter, Ebdon, Doherty or Lee. The standard any of them produced then,would be sufficient to comfortably win nearly every match now. The standard lower down is higher but many players temperament on big occassions seems to be questionable. I would go as far as to say that if Steve Davis, Jimmy White or John Parrot produced the level they achieved in the early 1990s they would have an excellent chance of winning this week with only O'Sullivan or Selby as competition for them. An on-form Reardon, Mountjoy, Taylor, Griffiths or Thorburn would also have every chance!
John H

Anonymous said...

The major flaw in today's players is that they don't have the desire and work ethic to be the very best.I cannot see there being another Davis or Hendry in a long long time.
I think Williams and Higgins started the trend of not having to work your hardest to succeed.They have both had brilliant careers but should have achieved much more.Of course it is hard to criticise players that are amongst the best ever but if either/both had been as complete in their work ethic as Davis and Hendry then they surely would have won many more titles.
The subsequent generation of players has seen what you can achieve by not giving it 100% every single day and decided they prefer this easier way.
Fortunately it will only take one player to break this cycle and force the others to work harder but I have no idea who that will be.

Anonymous said...

I think the negativity around the circuit and its future has fed back into the players. Most of the best ones earn enough not to be too bothered trying to be the world No.1 - they'd rather go to Vegas and spend their earnings, or in the case of the older ones, enjoy time raising their young families. There is so little pride in snooker any more - how many of the current crop will go on to compete in their 50s the way Steve Davis has done? And behave in such a gentleman-like manner?

Anonymous said...

Snooker should be compared to other sporting attractions when when debates like this come up..
Look at tennis for example....The top 100 players in the world do not have to worry about where they are going to get petrol money from to get to the venue!! The top 48 snooker players don´t either, but the rest cannot make a fair living out of it...It´s about time somebody took over the management of World Snooker and did something for these Geniuses, making the Fame and fortune of the game more interesting for the players.I am pretty sure the performances right through the rankings would step up a gear. Just a thought.....