19.10.11

WHAT'S AGE GOT TO DO WITH IT?

Give or take a couple of weeks it is 25 years since Rex Williams became the oldest player to appear in a ranking final.

Williams was 53 when he faced Jimmy White for the Grand Prix title at the Hexagon in Reading. White beat him 10-6 but it was a fine achievement by one of the sport’s elder statesmen.

The old guard who helped make snooker such a successful TV sport in the 1980s were gradually forced off the stage by younger players who in turn raised standards.

One such player was Ronnie O’Sullivan, the youngest player, at 17, to win a ranking title.

Ronnie told today’s Independent that he wants to become the first 40-something since Ray Reardon to win the World Championship. This would mean him winning the title in 2016, only five years away.

Is this possible? Could a player win the world title in their 40s?

It depends on the player. John Higgins is 36, as is Mark Williams. O’Sullivan will be in two months.

These three have proved to be every bit as good in their 30s as they were in their 20s.

Reardon was 45 when he won his sixth world title in 1978 and people forget how close he ran Alex Higgins in the final four years later when he was 49.

The Welshman is the oldest winner of a ranking title. He was 50 when he captured the 1982 Professional Players Championship.

It’s also worth mentioning that he beat Steve Davis – at the time the undisputed king of snooker – 5-0 in the first round of the 1988 British Open at the age of 55.

The game has changed since Fred Davis reached the World Championship semi-finals at 64 in 1978 but this is still a remarkable feat given the stamina required, particularly in the days of hard as nails snooker.

Fred last qualified for the Crucible in 1984 when he was 70. At 77 he won two qualifying matches for the Mercantile Classic.

He played his last match as a professional at the age of 79 to bring a pro career of some 57 years to a conclusion.

That is a series of accomplishments that it is very hard to see being emulated.

Steve Davis has, of course, continued to defy conventional wisdom by producing highly creditable performances into his 50s.

Davis, 54, is not just hanging on. He is still playing well, as he proved when he reached the semi-finals of PTC6 in Poland a few weeks ago.

He said before that event that he was taking things seriously again, which suggests he has been practising.

I remember interviewing him at the 2005 Malta Cup, where he said he would be practising hard for the upcoming World Championship as it was the last to be sponsored by Embassy and he wanted to produce a good performance.

I have no doubt my reaction would have been along the lines of, ‘yeah, whatever’ but not so long afterwards there was Steve in the quarter-finals.

He reached the same stage of the World Championship last year. Such is his great knowledge of matchplay snooker that I wouldn’t rule out another appearance at the Crucible for the circuit’s oldest player.

Age is not the key factor here. Davis has looked after himself. He is fitter than a number of players younger than him.

And he has the pure love of the game, the endless fascination with it, to carry on. His latest challenge appears to be proving all those wrong – myself included – who thought he would be on a slippery slope after he dropped out of the top 32

Snooker is not a physical sport but does require high degrees of concentration. There are other factors, most notably changing eyesight, which are age related and older players sometimes find that their nerve is not as strong as when they were young and fearless.

Outside life intrudes, too. Players have families and other interests and pressures whereas when they’re young it tends to be snooker, snooker, snooker.

Sometimes they burn out. I remember interviewing Stephen Hendry after he had won his seventh world title at the age of 30 and part of his intensity, which he had put into breaking the modern day record, seemed to have gone. He still won tournaments of course but was never quite the same again.

But age should not be regarded as an impediment to success in snooker. If players still have the desire then there’s no reason why they shouldn’t extend their careers into middle age.

Look at Phil Taylor in darts – 51 and still brilliant, still the man to beat.

So can O’Sullivan be world champion at 40? It’s impossible to say but there’s no immediate reason why not, although he will have to keep playing in all the other tournaments to ensure a Crucible seeding. He will have to retain a desire for week in, week out snooker, otherwise his world ranking will go down.

The slog of the circuit, particularly with so many new events, generally becomes less appetising for older players.

Higgins and Williams, both of whom are proficient at mixing it in the safety/scrappy stakes, will surely still be going strong in five years time.

In some ways it’s easier for them now than it was for the players of their age 20 years ago.

Back then the top stars had the likes of Ronnie, Mark and John coming through, kicking over the old order and taking their places among the elite.

There are many talented young players out there now but few seem to be making the sort of strides these three did.

So these ‘veterans’ are not looking over their shoulders at what’s coming in behind them in the same way players 20 years ago were when the game went open.

For O’Sullivan to be world champion at 40 would be a fine achievement, not least because it would come more than two decades after his first ranking title.

But snooker is one of those games where players can enjoy the sort of longevity physical sports simply do not allow.

It comes down to how much they want it, how hard they are prepared to work and what they make of their opportunities.

All of which applies however old you are.

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

Lets Not Forget Ronnie hasent won a Ranking Event since the 2009 Shanghai Masters thats 2 years so hes not doing a Brilliant Job in his 30s never mind 40.

Anonymous said...

I think it's worth noting that Davis was no slouch up to about 40, and that's when he really hit trouble. If it weren't for Hendry he would have had a serious shot at winning the world title in 1994 at 36. Hendry last looked like a serious contender in 2003 at 34, and it was unfortunate for him Williams was on a hot streak at the time. To all intents and purposes Hendry was the second best player in the world in 2003: runner-up at The Masters and UK, winner at the Welsh and British Open. Ebdon almost pulled it off at 35 too.

Higgins, Williams and Ronnie have only just reached the drop zone age, so the jury is still out on what they can achieve in the their late 30s and 40s. Personally I think we'll see them start to fall away from the elite in the next 2-3 years, I don't think we'll ever see a 40+ player win the world championship again.

It's sad that Ronnie is worrying about his 40s considering he pissed away his 20s and early 30s. He probably could have matched Hendry by now, or at least been on par with Davis and Reardon, and really should have been ahead of his own generation.

Anonymous said...

ROS has dwindled in the last 3 years.

have a look at his record in rankers (not including the masters, obviously) and youll see he isnt anywhere near as good as he once was.

in fact, take away his masters and PL victories and his record isnt that amazing over the last 5 years.

in fact he has only won something like 3 ranking events in 6 years.

so, will he world champion in his 40s?

i doubt it, though obviously its not impossible

Anonymous said...

Win the World Championship at 40?
IMO he'll never win another major tournament. Who is he trying to kid - the man is a fantasist. He's talked so much nonsense over the years I now take it all with a pinch of salt.

Anonymous said...

Ronnie has quite clearly played brilliant snooker in his 30's. For a start when he won the world title in 2008 it was brilliant snooker. There is no reason that he cannot continue to produce good quality after 40. Steve Davis has shown that although there is an inevitable decline with aging it can be a very slow process indeed and the standard that Ronnie still produces at his best has a long way to fall before it can remotely be described as mediocre. If Ronnie gets "in the mood" then I don't care if he's 28 or 43 he's still capable of beating anybody.

Seifer Almasy said...

Age has a lot to do with it in physical sports but in Snooker, Darts and Chess, a player can go on for much longer. How long depends on many factors: genetics, eye sight (think Reardon), ability to handle battle scars, physical and mental fitness and a new approach to the game in terms of not playing as many long ball shots as you once did-
relying instead on more tactical play to get a chance.

O'Sullivan is boding very well in all of these thus far and that's why he has managed to win so much in his tail end and is continuing to win tournaments into his mid 30's. He is as fit as a fiddle.

Davis has been exceptional overall too in his longevity and approach to his game in old age.

I think you can guess what I am gonna say next? Yeah... Hendry. He hasn't managed battle scars well at all, dropped a huge amount of his consistency as the new players emerged into their prime around 1997, and refuses to adapt his game and gain some confidence. A woeful tail end.

Higgins and Williams have also been exceptional in their "tail end" years. Of all the main greats of the game still playing, only Hendry and White have failed to maintain their best.

I feel White would have done much better had he adapted his game earlier and improved his physical (and thus mental) fitness.

Seifer Almasy said...

Lets Not Forget Ronnie hasent won a Ranking Event since the 2009 Shanghai Masters
---------

He has won 2 ranking events this season, PTC1 and PTC7, and has made the most centuries so far (21) and a 147.

I don't think that is bad. So far he is the man to beat this season.

Anonymous said...

who are you trying to kid seifer?

a ptc isnt a full ranker, not in anyone book

ronnie has won 3 ranking titles in 6 years.

wow!

almost everyone else who had poster of him on his wall has got over him already.

Dave H said...

I've let all these through so far but if this descends into ye another tedious Hendry v O'Sullivan argument I will just ban certain posters because this blog respects all players, particularly those who have won multiple titles. The blog post is about whether age is a determining factor for success, not whether player A was really any good, or whether player B is any better.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Dave but the new background photos are giving me a headache!

Anonymous said...

My grandfather fought in the war to have freedom of speech dave. With Remembrance coming up, please honour all those brave men we lost by not becoming a Nazi.

Dave H said...

Nobody's grandfather fought a war so that people could - anonymously - insult each other on a snooker blog

And with 'freedom of speech' comes responsibility for what you say

Dave H said...

Nobody's grandfather fought a war so that people could - anonymously - insult each other on a snooker blog

And with 'freedom of speech' comes responsibility for what you say

Trevorp said...

The next thing i want to know is it inevitable the length of the world championships will be reduced like every tournament,including the uk championship.which we were told would never be touched.if it is reduced i think it will be easier for older players to win.i think it will be reduced in the next few years like all tournaments.do you think so dave with your insider contacts ?.

Dave H said...

The UK Championship has been reduced for TV. If the BBC wanted the World Championship reduced then it would happen, although in my opinion that would be the time to look for another broadcaster.

It would only happen if they no longer want to broadcast a 17-day tournament, and with the cuts coming to the corporation it isn't out of the question.

Anonymous said...

If Ronnie can win in his 40's then Higgins and Williams are just as likely to as well. I would rather see some new faces coming through though. I must say I have been rather dissapointed with the teenage talent out there. Brecel is having a terrible first season as a pro, the chances of him winning a ranking event age 17 seems very slim. It seems to be a feature in many sports these days that players achieve much later than they used to, like tennis for example. It is curious that this is happening in snooker as well, seeing as this is not such a physical sport.

someblokefromthepub.

Janie Watkins said...

If I had to tip one of the three - Williams, O'Sullivan, Higgins, all close in age, to be still be picking up major titles and possibly World title into their 40s then I'd have to put my 10p on John Higgins.

People may write off the PTCs as minor events but I think it says quite a lot for Ronnie that (despite saying he dislikes them) he's still showed enough application to win two of them already this season.

Another thing that comes with age is a lot of "mental scarring" from tough losses, missed shots etc. How a player copes with that can also have a bearing on their ability to keep winning.

Anonymous said...

I can't see Ronnie winning a World title in his 40's.

Its been 2 years from he won a ranking event and nearly 3 years from he won a major.

Higgins is way ahead of him at the minute and with the likes of Selby and Ding about its only going to get harder for Ronnie.

Anonymous said...

Mark Williams is clearly the man to beat so far this season: this is precisely what happened in the tournaments that actually count.

Seifer Almasy said...

Anonymous said...

who are you trying to kid seifer?

a ptc isnt a full ranker, not in anyone book
-------

See I find these kind of comments very short sighted, because to win a PTC requires more frames than a "major rank" event. You have to win 7 matches too. In my book they are about the same. I would prefer better audience and coverage but that will come in time.

Ronnie is the first person to win 2 PTC in same season, I don't think you are being fair in the slightest. Some of the Snooker he showed in PTC7 was godly, and in 1 tournament (was it PTC1) he equalled record 8 centuries for a PTC.

Trevorp said...

Anon 9.54 dings record at the crucible is hardly anything to write home about only once has he been past the last 16

Anonymous said...

OOOOOOOOOOO my giddy Aunt, please Dave change the blog photos, its sending my vertigo crazy!!!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

who are you trying to kid seifer?

a ptc isnt a full ranker, not in anyone book
-------

Seifer Almasy said...

See I find these kind of comments very short sighted, because to win a PTC requires more frames than a "major rank" event.
----------------

thats not true!

Anonymous said...

That's funny Seifer, last year you were saying the PTCs were a lottery and a waste of time (as well as being disrespectful to those players who won PTC events). Soon as Ronnie starts winning them they're fully fledged ranking events!

John McBride said...

If Ronnie O'Sullivan continues to put the work in, he'll have a chance.
He's certainly too good a player not to have a chance.

wild said...

well cut backs to snooker will mean me cutting back on paying my license fee.

ive already considered cutting a quarter for the loss of the World Open but let that go any more cuts and ill be cutting down what they get from me.

Betty Logan said...

How do you think that will work out for you wild? Do you think if you send up half the fee, the BBC will write back and politely ask you to only watch half the channels?

Seifer Almasy said...

That's funny Seifer, last year you were saying the PTCs were a lottery and a waste of time
-------

You are correct. I did say they were a lottery and I do have serious misgivings about the rank points awarded. It is true that PTC make for shock wins but I have come to realise that is the nature of Snooker... the best players simply don't always win like they do with Tennis or Darts. Sometimes luck or run or a bit of loss of form can dictate a match when you have a best of 7.

The only things wrong are: 1. points system is wrong across the board with all events not just PTC. 2. There are too many PTC. Point 2 is being addressed and thank god for that. next season they are down to 8 which is reasonable.

Overall I have changed my view on PTC being useless lotteries. Yes, see, people can change their minds. They are just as difficult as a normal ranker because the extra matches balance out the difficulty.

The real problem lies with lack of frames played. A shot clock would soon fix that in some of these PTC's.

Seifer Almasy said...

as for PTC frames being more, I admit, I was wrong.

A PTC takes 4*7 frames to win (28 frames).

Shanghai masters takes 31

They are about equal, but PTC is 7 matches and PTC is harder to get through in terms of upsets.

Regardless, the original point was that someone was knocking o'sullivan and saying PTC are not real rankers, and I stand by my point that they are every bit as "hard" as a normal ranker. They are comparable.

It is desperation to say "Ronnie has only won" and then make excuses for anything that doesn't fit your criteria, including the Masters.

Dave H said...

PTCs aren't a lottery. I could in theory win the lottery but if I entered a PTC I wouldn't have any chance of winning it.

What they are is a leveller because they take away the advantages the top players usually enjoy.

However, the top players are still winning most of them. Why? Because they're the best players.

Anonymous said...

i disagree that ptcs are as hard as REAL rankers and i dont think they are comparible.

thank you for admitting you were wrong

28 still doesnt = 31 and some other REAL rankers are more frames than 31

so, you were wrong the first time and your opinion is still well in the minority, going by most peoples opinions on popular snooker websites, blogs and on twitter.

Seifer Almasy said...

Well I guess relative lottery is a better term. I disagree with that now, but Snooker does have a very fine line between winners and losers with best of 7's (and even 9's) sometimes. When the field is strong you don't see dominance like you do with Tennis and Darts, and in PTC especially there has been a huge variance in later stage players.

Anonymous said...

5.25 Dave h
Most of the ptcs have been won by the top players? Depends how you define a top player.
By my calculations of the 19 ptcs so far only 9 have been won by players who were ranked in the top 16 at the time .
Anon 8.32
Ptcs are harder to win for the top players by their format etc .
Ptcs are virtually always 10 to 1 the field whereas in normal ranking events it is about 5 to 1 the field .

Anonymous said...

1209 anon

normal rankers up to about 6 months ago were 5/1 the field and it was always ronnie at the front of the betting.

this price didnt reflect form (3 rankers in 6 years), but it was so because of volume of blind bets on him, so i dont really think youre argument holds water.

(add to that that top players can meet earlier in ptc's)

Anonymous said...

Out of the 20 PTCs so far 11 have been won by top 16 players, so that's over 50% of the titles going to 1/6 of the tour. That has been more skewed this season with five of the seven titles going to top 16 players. While it is true that most of the titles last season weren't won by top 16 players, the results still heavily skewed in their favour. This season it is kind of looking anomalous when a player from outside of the top 16 wins; the audiences and TV coverage seems to be seeing the events conform to a more traditional outcome.

Trevorp said...

Seifer you said the ptc's are being reduced to 8 next season when was this announced ?