And so to the Bahrain Championship, a tournament I’m sure everyone agrees is a welcome addition to the circuit.

This is the first ranking event to be staged in the Middle East for 14 years. Players of the early 1990s loved going to Dubai and I’ve no doubt the leading stars of today will receive an enthusiastic welcome in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

A few years ago, Matthew Stevens would have been one of the favourites. However, when I was looking down the draw earlier it was something of a surprise to see his name.

When was the last time he even played in a big TV match?

He didn’t qualify for Belfast or Glasgow and was only excused having to do so for Bahrain because of the enforced withdrawals of Mark Selby, John Higgins and Ding Junhui, who are all playing in the Premier League.

Matthew needs to start performing. He is currently 33rd in the provisional rankings and in danger of disappearing from view altogether.

So what went wrong?

Firstly, let’s nail one much repeated myth, namely that his game fell apart following the death of his father, Morrell, in 2001.

Actually, his form had already started to look shaky following his failure to win the 2000 world title. He led Mark Williams 13-7 in the final but lost 18-16.

He was still young and knew there were plenty more chances to come but must have found himself thinking in the months that followed that he should have been world champion instead of his good friend.

Of course Morrell’s death did then have an impact. He was his biggest supporter, travelled the circuit with him and Matthew was only 23 when he died.

Stevens won the 1999 Scottish Masters, 2000 Wembley Masters and 2003 UK Championship, got up to as high as fourth in the rankings and developed a reputation as a form man at the Crucible.

From 2000 to 2004 he appeared in a final and three semi-finals there but each match he lost was close – 18-16 to Williams, 17-15 to Higgins, 17-16 to Peter Ebdon and 17-15 to Graeme Dott.

Such close defeats inevitably take their toll and create a sense of uncertainty when future matches go to the wire.

So it was that the Welshman should lose in the final in 2005 to Shaun Murphy, a match he again led and again could have won.

Then another tragedy, the long illness and subsequent death of his best friend, Paul Hunter.

Remember, these two had travelled the circuit together since they were juniors. It is inconceivable that Paul’s death did not seriously affect him, on the table and off it.

His form deteriorated to such an extent that at the Crucible in 2007 he needed to beat Shaun Murphy in the quarter-finals to stay in the top 16.

All was well when he led 12-7 but Murphy recovered to win 13-12 and Stevens was relegated from the elite group.

Does he have the hunger to return? Has he ever had the determination of the true greats of the game?

Only he can tell you, but one thing I do know is that, in terms of pure talent, Stevens is one of the best players I have ever seen.

I would like to think that his best days are not behind him but, at 31, he is facing an important few years that will tell us one way or another.


Monique said...

Have you seen him play recently Dave? I watched him play in Duffel ... can talent run dry? I'm afraid it can unless what I saw was just bad day in office. It happens to all but Matthew's results suggests other scenarios alas...

Rich P said...

He also prefers playing poker to snooker these days...like a number of other players.

andy said...

He's had some pretty big knocks, and he certainly loves to enjoy himself off the table.

I'm 37 and have both my parents and have never lost a very close friend. Touch wood, it won't happen for a very long time to come.

Should be interesting to see what happens if he drops way way down the rankings.

As the great commentators of our day would say, form is temporary, class is permanent!


andy said...

The poker comment poses a good point. People in golf often say there's too much money in the game and players often don't play to win, they simply play to earn a couple of million a year. But I disagree, I think snooker proves that top class, high value sponsorship is necessary in sport or people like Matthew Stevens can lose interest because there's nothing in the game for them (if that is indeed what has happened).

The result of little money in the game means quality players will simply find another job that pays more. Golf has worked very hard to get themselves in the position they are in today and they get what they deserve through excellent organisation and professionalism.


Matt@PSB said...

Seems to be a motivation thing to me really, I don't know Matthew personally but he was so good at his peak that I don't think you can just lose that. It is such a shame really, he's still young enough to get back up the rankings but it just doesn't seem to be happening.

Anonymous said...

brilliant ability. under acheived, though he has done very well. could come back to top 8 no probs if his prep was correct imho but other things in his life and recent events have changed him. very nice guy. on his game was as good as anyone of that "decade"

Anonymous said...

The match against Murphy when Stevens lost 13-12 from 12-7 up was the biggest bottle job in professional snooker history. It was painful to watch such a talented player go to pieces in such dramatic fashion but once it happened the writing was on the wall for what has happened since. Battle scars kill careers and Stevens has near fatal battle scars these days.

Anonymous said...

I would say Hallett from 7-0 and 8-2 up against Hendry might surpass Steven's failure. Particularly when you watch his shot from blue to pink in what would have been a match winning clearance (youtube has it)

Anonymous said...

I think Ronnie summed it up best a few years ago when he asked Matthew at Sheffield if he "only practiced for the World Championship!"
He's one of the breed of players who didn't put in as much work as they should have.His talent should have meant he won much more than he did but you also need the application.
It's rude to criticise someone who has had a good career but it could have been so much better.
I hope he manages to turn things around as he seems to be a decent guy,but in the big scheme of things this is much more important than winning snooker matches.
Good luck to him.

Anonymous said...

i remember reading an article some years ago when Matthew was at his peak that compared him to Steve James. It suggested that his style of play would mean he would slip down the rankings when he reached the end of his twenties due to tiny deterioration in eyesight and coordination having a major effect with his style of play.

andy said...

Pump action (circular) cue actions can tend introduce inconsistencies into your game. Very natural players tend to have this kind of action but normally eliminate it over time.

Jimmy White used to have this kind of action (but not to the extent Matthew has it) and if you look at some of the really old, early, footage of Hendry when he was in his early teens, he had it as well. By the time he turned pro, Hendry had eliminated it from his game completely.

Another thing I noticed with Stevens when he lost the Worlds to Murphy in 2005 was that he played several left handed shots and very proficiently (i.e.., the cueing action looked very professional) but he missed the balls he was going for and let Murphy back in. I'd never seen him play left handed before and was really surprised to see him introduce his left handed skills in the final of the Worlds.


Lucie said...

Wow, a 5-0 whitewash of Stuart Bingham. Now I do wonder whether your article provoked it. ;)

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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