23.12.11

AT YEAR'S END

It may be a packed calendar these days but even snooker stops for Christmas as another year draws to a close.

It has been a busy one in the snooker world with new tournaments, new champions and several familiar faces continuing to perform to the highest standards.

John Higgins maintained his golden form of the back end of last year as 2011 began, winning the Welsh Open, the Hainan Classic in China, the Scottish Professional Championship and the World Championship.

It was an emotional time for Higgins. His father’s death hit him hard and he needed the break when it came in May. That he has not been quite as intense since is not that great a surprise.

His old adversary, Mark Williams, won what was arguably the best tournament of the year, the German Masters, which proved that talk of a snooker boom in Germany was no myth.

The crowds turned out in huge numbers in Berlin and witnessed an engrossing final in which Williams outmanoeuvred Mark Selby 9-7. It allowed the Welshman to return to the world no.1 spot, a remarkable turnaround in fortunes having dropped out of the top 16.

His tenure as world no. l ended, though, when Selby overtook him. As if to rub it in, Selby edged Williams 10-9 in the Shanghai Masters final, a match which turned on a bizarre incident in which Selby’s hit-and-hope shot shifted the psychological momentum.

It was proof that sport, for all its skill, can be decided by the unexpected. This, of course, is why it remains so popular with the watching millions.

Williams also lost in a decider to Stuart Bingham at the new Australian Open in Bendigo, 9-8 from 8-5 up. This tournament was an example of the further international reach snooker is now enjoying.

There were many matches to savour this year and a general feeling that the standard of play has increased.

And yet the player who more than any other turned snooker into the attacking game it is today went backwards.

Stephen Hendry lost his place in the elite top 16 and will find it very difficult to regain it.

But 2011 will be mainly remembered as the year a new star was born on the big stage.

Snooker players and fans had been aware of Judd Trump’s audacious talent for years but he had yet to marshal it in any meaningful way.

That changed in Beijing when he combined his incredible potting game with some rock solid safety to win the China Open.

It was a foretaste of what was to come on the biggest stage of them all. In the pressure cooker of the Crucible, Trump was a revelation.

A hero for the Twitter generation, his progress to the World Championship final was a breath of fresh air for the sport.

He ultimately fell short as Higgins, burning with determination, secured his fourth world title. However, the Scot was right to identify Trump as the star of the tournament and a player around whom much of snooker’s future prosperity will be built.

Higgins, Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan are all now 36. These three outstanding players of the last 15 years broke through during the last major shake-up of the circuit when the game went open 20 years ago.

Now that it is undergoing another transformation, Trump is poised to be its leading light. His UK Championship success earlier this month rounded off a terrific year, for him and snooker.

The players deserve great credit for bringing the sport to life. There is now a distinct group of characters at the top of the game, all fiercely talented, battling for titles. Such is the standard that you can play great in the first round and lose. Any title these days is hard earned.

Off table, Barry Hearn continues to innovate, like a one-man runaway train the players are trying to keep pace with.

There seems to be three categories of player now: those who want to play all the time, those who give the impression they hardly want to play at all and the majority who want to play regularly but preferably without going skint in the process.

There will be more money for PTCs next year, with at least two British PTCs being cut, but expenses are a serious issue and will remain so the more tournaments that are staged in far flung locations.

But this is the problem of starting if not quite from scratch then from a low base. Prize money on the circuit has almost doubled in two years. It will continue to increase but the age of guarantees is over. More than ever, snooker has become the survival of the fittest.

Anyone who believes things were better before Hearn’s arrival needs a serious reality check.

After years of understandable complaints about too few playing opportunities there is a rebuilding process underway but some people seem to believe everything should be perfect immediately.

If the sport had been run properly in the past there would be no need for Hearn to step in at all.

Consider the following from the last year: major tournaments in Germany, Thailand, Australia and Brazil, live internet streaming of every event, record ticket sales, increased viewing figures, more sponsorship revenue, more prize money, more TV events...if people can’t celebrate any or all of these then it says more about them than the current state of snooker.

In 2012 there will be further new events. Hearn and his team are in discussions with promoters in countries including Singapore and Canada. I understand China is likely to get two new ranking events, one with a six figure first prize.

The globalisation of snooker continues apace, years and years later than it could have, but happening all the same.

World Snooker recently revealed that their revenue from overseas television sales five years ago was just £50,000. Now it is £2.5m. This proves that the sport is becoming truly international, although it can only claim this with credibility when the circuit includes more players from outside the UK.

The sport is on a sound financial footing. More care needs to be taken with the structure of the calendar but there is now a momentum behind the circuit, regular snooker not just for players but TV viewers too.

It’s not all perfect. There remains concern about too much meddling with snooker’s traditional elements. The game itself is still the biggest asset the sport has, more than any player.

There is still much sneering in the media, when they bother to cover snooker at all.

There are still rows and controversies and cock-ups and problems...as there are in every other sport.

But there is much to look forward to in 2012, which may prove to be snooker’s busiest year yet.

All that remains for me this year is to wish all you blog readers a very happy and peaceful festive period.

Merry Christmas, happy new year and thank you for reading.

19 comments:

Paul Collier said...

nice article Dave. Merry Christmas, and a busy and prosperous 2012!

Monique said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and keeping snooker talked about. Much appreciated.
Merry Christmas Dave.

Anonymous said...

@Paul, @Dave,

Well said and well written.

Merry Christmas and hope to see everyone in a new and full Snooker Loopy 2012,

Jurgen Gruson.

Anonymous said...

thanks dave.
merry christmas.

good to have a general snooker blog so we can mention all aspects were interested in.

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas!

Looking forward to reading you again in the new year.

Anonymous said...

2011 has almost certainly been snooker's most encouraging year since the early boom days of 30 years or so ago.

And the great news is that 2012 is almost certainly going to be even better.

How far things have come in a relatively short time. For example, it was only three years ago that we had that fiasco in Bahrain.

I don't agree with everything Barry's said and done by any means. But when you look at the overall impact, you just think what a waste it was not letting him take charge of things when he first wanted to, a quarter of a century ago.

Still, that's all in the past now, so there's nothing we can do to change it, and the future's looking brighter than it has for some time.

An exciting year ahead.

Dzierzgul said...

Great post, Dave - although I didn't expect anything less from you :) Merry Christmas and here's hoping for an even better year for snooker in 2012.

Johan said...

A nice article again, Dave.

Merry Christmas and a happy 2012! Can't wait for it ;-)

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas to you Dave, and to all fellow snooker fans. My 15 year old son is now a big snooker fan too and that's purely down to Trump.

jamie brannon said...

Merry Christmas to Dave and the others who comment.

I didn't see the German Masters, but it must have been some event if you consider it better than this years World Championship, which as you may have read was the best tournament I've ever witnessed.

I'm also taken by your comment that you think the standard is higher than ever, as you've said in the past it peaked around the late 90s/early 2000s, an opinion I share.

There's no question the standard between the top 32 or so is getting more squeezed.

Gerard said...

Have a happy christmas and I'm looking forward to reading much more of your great stuff here .. and the comments as well. Nice one everyone!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the work and information, Dave.

Wish you and all the other readers a merry christmas and a happy new year.

See you

J├╝rgen

JIMO96 said...

Merry Xmas Dave, and can I just say that with the pace of change affecting snooker, it is reassuring that your essential blog exists.

This is the first stop for all online snooker fans, and long my it comtinue!

gus_gorman said...

Great article as always,look forward to your thoughts in the new year :)
Keep up the good work dave!

Mignon said...

GREAT ARTICLE, Dave. I agree with every word in it.

Happy Christmas and a 2012 to remember!

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas Dave - thanks for all your posts. John H

Dimitris said...

Great blog Dave ! Thanks :-)
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all !

147 said...

Happy xmas dave to you and yours

Anonymous said...

The PTC finals have been confirmed in Ireland the same week as the Cheltenham festival. Unbelievable, haha.