Marco Fu – Hong Kong’s greatest ever player – believes China represents snooker’s best hope to go truly global.

The reigning Royal London Watches Grand Prix champion commutes from Happy Valley to play on the circuit, which is still largely based in the UK even though it’s now 20 years since the first ranking event was staged outside British shores.

Of the seven ranking events now staged, five are in the UK and two in China.

Fu for one would rather the sport spread it’s tournaments around the globe more evenly.

In a wide ranging interview for the magazine Squat, he eyes the Chinese snooker boom spearheaded by Ding Junhui as the chance to break the British stranglehold on the circuit.

“China is a big market,” Fu said. “In China there are 50 million people playing snooker.“Ding Junhui is doing very well over in England. And we've got two tournaments in China. If it keeps up like that, the standard will get higher in China. Then we'll get more tournaments on this side of the planet

“Just like when Thai player James Wattana was in his prime, we had two or three tournaments in Thailand.

“This is good. It's always England, England, England – all the tournaments are in England. And we're getting a little tired of that. We want to travel all over the world like they do in golf and tennis. But there's still a long way to go in snooker.”

Marco is certainly right in this latter comment. Ten years ago, there were ten ranking events. Now there are just seven.

However, John Higgins’s new World Series promises to help spread the snooker word in continental Europe this summer and the plan is to expand this tour to other countries in future years.

You can read the rest of the interview with Marco here:



James Wattana, Thailand's greatest ever player, will be relegated from the circuit after 19 years at the end of the season.

His 5-2 defeat to Rod Lawler in the final qualifying round of the Welsh Open yesterday was the last in a long line of disappointing reversals over the last couple of years.

Unless World Snooker award Wattana a discretionary wildcard he will be off the main tour as he can't now finish inside the top 64 in the two year rankings or among the top 8 of players on the one year list not already in the top 64.

What a great shame this is. Wattana is only 38 and, in the early 1990s, sparked a snooker boom in his home country on a par with what is now happening in China courtesy of Ding Junhui.

He had first risen to prominence as a teenager in 1986 when, invited to play on the Matchroom tours of Thailand, he won an invitation tournament, beating Terry Griffiths 2-1 in the final.

Wattana stunned snooker by reaching the final of the inaugural Asian Open in Bangkok in 1989, losing to Stephen Hendry.

He soon became one of the leading players of the next decade, reaching a highest ranking of no.3 and winning three ranking titles.

Two of these came in his native Thailand (the other was the 1992 Strachan Open) and he also won the prestigious World Matchplay in 1992.

Wattana was certainly good enough to be world champion but lost twice in the semi-finals, in 1993 and 1997.

He is perhaps best known for making a 147 at the 1992 British Open on the day he learned his father had been shot in Bangkok.

After constructing the break, then only the fourth maximum ever made on TV, Wattana was informed his father had died.

He lived in Bradford in the UK for many years and his grasp of English improved through games of scrabble.

Just two years ago, he beat Ronnie O'Sullivan 5-0 in the China Open but, like many a former great, found the Prestatyn qualifying scramble almost impossible.

Wattana's contribution to snooker has been immense. He has business interests in Thailand to keep him occupied but I can't help feeling his professional career has ended far too early.



The Paul Hunter Scholarship - set up by World Snooker in memory of the three times Masters champion who died of cancer at the age of just 27 in October 2006 - has received a £5,350 boost courtesy of Saga Insurance, the sponsors of the Wembley event.

Saga donated £50 for every 50 break made in the Masters as reported on http://www.worldsnooker.com/.

The scholarship is awarded annually to a promising young player and provides free practice at the World Snooker Academy in Sheffield plus free accomodation and access to a gym, psychological advice and various other benefits.

Daniel Wells, 19, was chosen as the inaugural scholar.

Daniel is a bright, enthusiastic player who has made the most of his big chance, as readers of Snooker Scene will see from a feature on him in our February issue, which is out next week.



Here's something interesting: there are eight players in the current top 16 who were there ten years ago with three of them (Ken Doherty, Mark Williams and Steve Davis) struggling to stay in.

Of the remaining eight, two (Alain Robidoux and Darren Morgan) have retired.

The other six are Nigel Bond, John Parrott, Alan McManus, Tony Drago, James Wattana and Anthony Hamilton.

Bond is still flogging on, as he proved by qualifying for the final stages of the China Open today, and Hamilton, though suffering from patchy form, was a Crucible quarter-finalist for the fourth time last year.

However, it appears to be close to the end for McManus, Wattana, Drago and Parrott.

None of them qualified for Beijing, although McManus and Parrott could still reach the Crucible.

No career lasts forever. Many players can go on long past their best but once they end up in the qualifying scramble it is very hard to produce consistently good form.

The conditions are a world away from the TV arena and tend to remind former greats that their best days are behind them. Jimmy White has found it almost impossible to handle.

Parrott does not need to keep playing. He has a successful media career and is not under pressure to get results.

Perhaps this is why his decline is not as sharp as, say, White's. JP plays because he enjoys competing, and though he obviously prefers to win it isn't a must.

It may be sad to see great names of the past struggling but giving up is a very difficult thing to do when snooker has been your life.

And there's always the nagging thought that, maybe, the golden form will return.

Remember Doug Mountjoy in 1988? He was thought to be finished but won two ranking titles in succession.

Marco Fu, Dominic Dale and Fergal O'Brien have all turned the clock back this season so, for McManus, Wattana and co, there's renewed hope of a revival however unlikely it may seem.



Matt Selt yesterday compiled three successive centuries during his 5-1 victory over Fraser Patrick in the first qualifying round of the China Open.

Not so long ago, this would have been regarded as a very special achievement, not to mention a rare one. However, standards across the board have risen so highly that it passed off virtually without mention.

Nobody today is playing any better than Stephen Hendry did at his peak in the 1990s - as far as I'm concerned the best anyone has ever played - but there is far greater strength in depth now.

Any player on the 96-man main tour is capable of making big breaks. It is so competitive at the qualifiers that few players manage to get on the kind of winning runs the likes of Ronnie O'Sullivan and John Higgins managed in the early 1990s.

This is because the game then was open to anyone who wanted to pay to turn pro, so there was no minimum standard required to compete on the circuit. Ronnie in particular was so much better than everyone else that he tended to steamroller opponents.

There were over 700 pros then; now there are less than 100. However, it's probably harder than it's ever been for young players to qualify for final stages of tournaments because everyone at Prestatyn is a very, very good player.



Mark Selby's capture of the Saga Insurance Masters was thoroughly deserved.

He played his best snooker when it mattered most: amid the intense pressure of a major final in one of the game's most intimidating arenas.

At just 24, Selby has served notice he will be around for a long time to come. His Wembley title victory is surely the first of many.

His cheerfulness and desire to entertain, allied to a great talent, is reminiscent of the late Paul Hunter, who won the Masters three times in four years from 2001 to 2004.

Hunter helped to raise snooker's profile through his force of personality. Selby - known as the 'Jester from Leicester' has the potential to do the same.

Good luck to him. Snooker has a new star.



It's not just a big day for Mark Selby and Stephen Lee but also for Michaela Tabb who has become the first woman ever to referee one of snooker's 'big three' finals.

Michaela has donned her white gloves for the final of the Saga Insurance Masters at Wembley Arena.

The venue holds 4,000 and is around three quarters full so the pressure is on her as well as Selby and Lee.

“I’ve tried not to think about it too much this last week and just concentrate on the other matches because I knew it was such a daunting prospect,” Tabb told me in an interview for the Scottish Sunday Herald.

“However, when I refereed Marco Fu against Ding Junhui and there was plenty of audience involvement I found myself thinking how on earth I’m going to cope with 4,000 people.”

Tabb was an experienced pool referee before being fast-tracked into snooker in 2001 by the WPBSA, together with broadcasters, wishing to change what they considered to be the game’s somewhat conservative image.

Initial opposition from some of the old guard and inevitable politically incorrect comments from a sport whose circuit is roughly 95% male have quickly receded into memory as Tabb gradually grew to be respected as an efficient presence in the arena.

“Every step along the way has been a big one for me,” she said. “My first TV match was major, so was my first quarter-final and then my first semi-final and of course the Welsh Open final last season.

“I’m hoping to do the world final next year or the year after. That’s the one I want to do. It may sound selfish but I’m not going to let another woman come and steal that from me.

“Snooker is very male dominated but I feel like I’m just another ref now, which is as it should be. I’ve been accepted and I enjoy the attention I still get because it’s always good natured.”



The Eurosport website is running a contest to find the greatest sportsperson in the world at the moment.

Ronnie O'Sullivan has come through the group stage after holding off Man UTD star Cristiano Ronaldo, Aussie cricket captain Ricky Ponting and New Zealand rugby player Dan Carter.

The contest is voted for by users of the website and a panel of experts.

Read more here: http://uk.eurosport.yahoo.com/16012008/58/greatest-rocket-man.html



Mark Williams yesterday said he would seriously consider retirement if he dropped out of the top 32 at the end of the season.

How likely is this to happen?

As for dropping out of the top 32, it could easily occur. Unless he has good runs in the Welsh and China Opens, Williams will probably have to win his first round match at the Crucible, which is no certainty given the high standard of the qualifiers and pressure he will be under.

But would he walk away at the age of 33?

I seriously doubt it. Snooker has been his life since boyhood. He turned professional at 17 and it is all he has known.

The obvious question, then, is what else he would do.

I can only think of one player who has retired while still at the top level, other than Chris Small and Martin Clark who did so because of illness.

The player in question was Terry Griffiths, who put his cue away after dropping out of the top 16. However, Terry was 49 at the time and his best years were behind him, even if he could have survived on the tour for several more seasons.

I’d be amazed if Williams did the same. His reaction yesterday was more than likely simple disappointment at another early exit.

What is incredible, though, is the current plight of a player who has won two world titles in this decade.



Steve Davis walked out of Wembley Arena for quite possibly the last time this afternoon following a disappointing 6-2 defeat to Marco Fu this morning.

It was Davis’s 50th match in the Masters – appropriate really considering the sponsors, Saga Insurance, specialise in holidays for the over 50s. He is, of course, 50 himself and the first 50-something to play in the tournament since Cliff Wilson in 1989.

But as Steve is down to 27th in the provisional rankings, the chances are it will be his last appearance in the prestigious invitation tournament.

“It was a day of frustration,” he said afterwards. “I wanted to scream out there. I practised quite a bit for this but struggled with the fast table. It was like Bambi on ice out there.

“I’m philosophical about whether I play here again. If I don’t then so be it. I don’t really want a wildcard. If I’m not good enough I can accept it.”

Davis has won the Masters three times. This isn't as a good as a record as in the World or UK Championship but only Stephen Hendry, with six, has won it more.



Here's my interview with Stephen Hendry in the Sunday Herald:


Such is the prestige of the Saga Insurance Masters (and the fact that it's held in London where all the national newspapers are based) that there has been a fair amount of coverage building up to the tournament.

Here are some of the more interesting stories.

My Snooker Scene colleague Phil Yates has written about the expansion of snooker across Europe, in particular in Germany, in The Times:

Steve Davis has criticised World Snooker's restrictive logo policy in an interview in The Sun:

Ken Doherty has called on Ronnie O'Sullivan not to retire (not that he will in any case) in the Daily Express:

John Higgins has been asked a few not so serious questions by The Guardian:

Ryan Day is looking forward to only his second appearance in the event in the South Wales Echo:

Shaun Murphy says he's on his way to becoming the best player in the game on the BBC website:

Marco Fu is relishing his match against Steve Davis on worldsnooker.com:

My Eurosport commentary colleague Mike Hallett, twice a Wembley finalist, looks ahead to this year's event on the Eurosport website:



I for one am pleased World Snooker have resisted the calls, that have come at various intervals over the years, to make the Masters into a ranking event.

It's prestige comes not from the fact that it carries ranking points but that it is for the elite. Only the top 16 plus Marco Fu (the season's Grand Prix champion) and Barry Hawkins (who won the qualifying event) will take part.

This is a tournament with a rich history. It was first staged in 1975 and has been won by most of the game's great and good.

Cliff Thorburn captured the title three times in the 1980s. Stephen Hendry won it the first five times he took part and has been the winner a record six times. The late Paul Hunter made three extraordinary comebacks to win it in deciding frame finishes earlier in this decade.

The Masters, sponsored by Saga Insurance, who are donating money for each 50 break made to the Paul Hunter Scholarship (which provides practice facilities and advice for a young up-and-coming players), is no longer held at Wembley Conference Centre.

It can't very well be as it's been knocked down. The Wembley Arena isn't quite the same but it least it provides continuity.

This year's event, like every year, is hard to call. The top two players in the provisional rnakings - Ronnie O'Sullivan and Stephen Maguire - face each other in a mouth-watering clash on the opening day.

888.com world champion John Higgins tackles last year's runner-up, Ding Junhui, in a tough last 16 meeting.

Who would you pick out of Ken Doherty (whose form has declined a little of late) and Mark Williams (who has begun to find some)?

Can Graeme Dott beat Stephen Lee for only the second time in eight meetings?

And what about Hendry, whose exploits at Wembley down the years saw him chosen as the first sportsman to have a cast of his hands laid at the Walk of Fame outside?

He turns 39 on Sunday and I have interviewed him for this weekend's Scottish Sunday Herald. Without giving too much away before publication, it would be fair to say he is feeling pretty bullish ahead of the tournament.

Any suggestion that he can't cut it at the top level was knocked out of the park like an on-fire Freddie Flintoff.

Hendry faces Mark Selby in his first match. After that it doesn't get any easier but Steve Davis won the title at the age of 39 in 1997 so you never know.

O'Sullivan, though, has been in the Masters final for each of the last four years. I for one expect him to be there again in just over a week's time.



In a victory for free speech, Graeme Dott has escaped any punishment for comments he made about Ian McCulloch in newspaper interviews last August.

The case against him (see post below) collapsed today after his lawyer produced evidence of previous instances in which players have made similar comments about their fellow competitors and no action had been taken.

Good on Dotty for standing up for himself. His original comments were, perhaps, ill advised but he refused to be intimidated by the prospect of disciplinary action and has set a precedent that should now put an end to players being threatened for speaking their minds.


Here’s something you won’t read on worldsnooker.com – Graeme Dott is today up before the WPBSA disciplinary committee facing the charge of making disrespectful remarks about a fellow player.

The player in question was Ian McCulloch but he was not the complainant. That person has not been revealed, neither has the make up of the disciplinary committee or even that the hearing is taking place at all.

Dott was riled by comments he had read from McCulloch following his 10-7 defeat to the Preston man in the first round of last season’s 888.com World Championship.

Launching the Grand Prix last August, he was quoted in Aberdeen newspapers as saying: “To lose to McCulloch at any time is disappointing. I don’t like the guy, I don't respect him and I don’t think he is any good.

“I couldn’t have played any worse. Honestly, you could have taken a guy off the street and he would have beaten me. Yet McCulloch only managed to win 10-7.

“After that McCulloch said that Anthony Hamilton was in a different class to me, which is disrespectful. No disrespect to Anthony, who is a fantastic player - but has he won the world title? No.

“It is not good etiquette to say something bad about a fellow player, but since McCulloch has I feel no reason to hold back. McCulloch has done nothing, and will do nothing in the game - so I find his attitude astonishing.”

Is this worthy of disciplinary action? I disagree with Dotty’s comments but I can’t see how he can be punished for them.

What happened to the principle of freedom of speech?

McCulloch is the sort of character who would shrug it off. He did the important thing, which was winning their match.

Graeme probably didn’t do himself any favours saying what he did but did it damage the game?

No way. People love a good row and it’ll add some spice to their next meeting.

There’s another issue here as well. All too often you’ll see the old line trotted out that there are “no characters in snooker these days.” Indeed, it is in a snooker feature in this week’s Radio Times.

Modern players do have strong personalities but many of them are frightened to speak out because of constant threats that they will be disciplined.

Snooker is a sport struggling for newspaper coverage. Punishing the players for having opinions isn’t going to increase it.



Robin Hull, Finland's only professional, has resigned his membership of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association and has therefore brought his pro career to an end.

Hull, 33, has been dogged with health problems for the last few years. He suffered from a virus so debilitating that he found it hard to walk in a straight line.

He is also suffering from an irregular heartbeat and the combined health issues have caused him to put his cue away for good.

This is a great shame. Hull was a very talented player whose illness came about at exactly the time he was starting to make a breakthrough.

He won 28 matches during the 2001/02 season which culminated in him beating Steve Davis to qualify for the Crucible where Graeme Dott beat him in the first round.

Hull joined the top 32 in the rankings at 32nd but his position declined as the virus forced him to pull out of several tournaments.

He appeared to have made a recovery when only last season he beat Neil Robertson - fresh from winning the Grand Prix - in the Maplin UK Championship.

He then spoke of his ordeal, saying: “I had to have similar physiotherapy to that given to stroke victims and I still have numbness on my right side.

“There was a time when I couldn’t go out of a room. My confidence was badly damaged because I couldn’t do a simple thing like walking to a bus stop without feeling very ill and dizzy.

“My neurologist tried to keep me positive but it was very frightening as you tend to fear the worst.

“In any walk of life it would be a terrible thing, but for a snooker player it was a nightmare. I couldn’t get down to the table to play a shot without being physically sick.”

Despite signs he was over the worst of it, Hull pulled out of the 888.com World Championship qualifiers a few weeks after beating Robertson and has been similarly affected this season, missing out on the UK Championship.

Hull famously missed the black on 140 with a maximum waiting in the 1999 World Championship qualifiers.

His best performances in ranking events were quarter-final appearances in the 2003 Welsh Open and 2006 Malta Cup.

We here at Snooker Scene send our sympathies to him that he has been forced to retire through no fault of his own and wish him all the best for the future.



Snooker Scene's website has been revamped to make it easier to use and with additional content.

Among the new features are full results from the final stages onwards of all ranking events, which should prove useful if you find yourself idly wondering who beat who in the first round of, for instance, the 1987 Fidelity International.

We are also carrying readers letters that have appeared in the magazine plus some of those that there wasn't space for.

We will be adding more content in the next week or so, including the rules of snooker so that any disputes down the club can be quickly resolved.

The main feature remains the Snooker Scene Shop where back issues, cues, books, DVDs and all manner of other cue sports goodies can be purchased.

The address is http://www.snookerscene.co.uk/ or click on the link on the right.



Well done to Barry Stark who, at the age of 65, won a couple of matches in the prelims for the 888.com World Championship.

Snooker has come a long way since the great Fred Davis reached the Crucible semi-finals at the age of 64 in 1978.

At 50, Steve Davis is the oldest player on the 96-man main tour. There are only a handful of players above 40.

But there’s no reason, health obviously permitting, why players shouldn’t carry on playing at some sort of level into old age.

Snooker is not a physical sport, although a degree of physical fitness and stamina can be very useful.

At the other end of the age scale, congratulations to 9 year-old Shane Castle who made his first competitive century, 101, in the Rushden Snooker Club under 19 grand finals.

Shane, who made a century in a practice match last November, was 81 days off the record as the youngest player to compile a competitive century set by Michael White. Ronnie O’Sullivan made his first century in competition at the age of 10.



Happy New Year to everybody.

When you’re watching the final of the 888.com World Championship four months from now spare a thought for Donald Newcombe and Phil Seaton who have today kicked snooker’s biggest event off in the chilly confines of Pontin’s at Prestatyn.

Their match is the only one in the first qualifying round. It’s perhaps a little unkind to liken it to two bald men fighting over a comb but it’s a long, long way to the Crucible from here. Newcombe or Seaton would have to win a total of eight matches to make it to Sheffield.

Next week, Jimmy White enters the fray in what could conceivably be his last ever World Championship.

Jimmy is currently 78th in the provisional rankings. If he drops off the tour he may get a wildcard but this isn’t the certainly many seem to assume.

The six times runner-up starts out against Matt Selt or Fraser Patrick and will then have to beat Andrew Higginson and Mark King to qualify for the Crucible.

It’s by no means beyond him but, bearing in mind his form this season, is somehow hard to see.

By the way, it’s well worth going to Prestatyn because there are several other established names in action, including 1991 champion John Parrott, former semi-finalists Alan McManus, Andy Hicks and James Wattana and rising stars like Judd Trump, Michael White and the five-strong Chinese contingent.

And if a qualifier follows in the footsteps of Terry Griffiths and Shaun Murphy by actually winning the title you can always boast that you were there to see them as they set off on the long journey towards snooker’s greatest prize.