So Matthew Stevens will be in next season's Premier League after his 3-1 defeat of Shaun Murphy in the Championship league final last night.

It marks the latest step in what has been an excellent few weeks for the Welshman: a Welsh Open quarter-final, last gasp win over Fergal O'Brien in World Championship qualifying and semi-final spot in the PTC Grand Finals.

Stevens dropped out of the top 16 in 2007 but will be back for the next seedings cut-off point. Good. It's where a player of his ability and class should be.

He was one of the young stars, along with Paul Hunter and Graeme Dott, who turned pro in the wake of O'Sullivan/Higgins/Williams in the mid 1990s and became leading players.

Stevens, like Jimmy White, is unfairly talked about in the main for what he hasn't won rather than what he has.

It is fact, of course, that he has lost two close world finals, both of which he could have won, as well as three close Crucible semi-finals.

However, little is made of the close Masters and UK Championship finals he won.

If you read Snooker Scene's interview with him at the start of the season you will know he made a concerted effort this year to apply himself.

Like Stephen Lee, another player of proven quality, he has found the changes in snooker to have helped him rediscover his form.

Put simply: he is playing so often that he has been able to sustain this form for a lengthy enough period to achieve meaningful results.

I'm glad he's doing well again, not just because I enjoy watching him play but because he is a nice guy who has taken a couple of serious off table knocks.

Matthew's father, Morrell, died in 2001. He was his biggest supporter, travelling everywhere with him.

“It took me at least two years to come to terms with him dying,” Stevens told Snooker Scene.

“I couldn’t face up to it. I didn’t want to practise and I was just going out drinking all the time, trying to block it out.

“The last thing I wanted to do was play snooker. He used to go to every tournament with me and it just didn’t feel the same. It still doesn’t.”

Then, in 2006, his best friend, Hunter, lost his long, painful battle with cancer, another devastating blow which must have had an effect on his game.

And what of the various close defeats? Have they formed an edge of uncertainty that has made winning further close games more difficult?

“It’s hard not to think what could have been," Stevens said. "I’ve lost so many close matches at the World Championship and I do find myself replaying certain shots in my mind.

“I remember missing a black off the spot when I was well ahead against Mark and he was brilliant after that. I thought I played well against Shaun but he was inspired.

“It’s tough to take but you can’t change anything. That’s how sport is.”

Indeed it is and the future is suddenly much sunnier.

Stevens is off to China tomorrow. His only problem is that he has been playing so much that he has been unable to obtain a visa and so has had to drive to Manchester to get one today.

Like most other things he has taken this in his stride. He is just happy to be back where he belongs.


kildare cueman said...

Maybe Stevens is back where he belongs and nobody would begrudge him, but its like what Steve Davis says, that there are about 30 top 16 players at the moment.

Only the super consistent or regular big tournament winners are guaranteed their place now.

I think players ranked from 10-28 will find themselves dipping in and out of the elite far more often than before.

Although still not ideal, there are now far greater opportunities for talented young new pros to break through, so they will add another competitive edge to the scramble for places.

On the subject of Welshmen and ranking fluidity, the fortunes of Williams and Day are an example of what I mean.

A couple of years ago, Day was ranked 4, with Williams struggling to hold onto his top 32 place. Now they have virtually swopped places with Williams back on top and Day struggling.

On the current list, Gould Lee and Trump look bound for the top 16, with Cope, Allen and Hendry watching their backs.

The beauty about this fluidity is that there will be a fair few "stars" ranked 17-32, enabling WS to bring in the last 32 at the first round proper instead of 16, if they wish.

Ray said...

It is really uplifting to see one of snooker's "good guys" winning again. It is no mean feat to get into the Premier League, in fact it seems to be a really exacting process. As you say Dave, Matthew has been through a lot. Unless you have experienced the pain yourself it is hard to grasp the hurt he feels at the loss of his father and his best friend at such a young age.

He has all the attributes to be a consistent winner. Let's hope he continues to put the hard hours of practice in to fulfill his potential. There's no doubt he can win the World Championship - maybe this year.

JV always says "Success only comes before work in the dictionary". Absolute proof of this can be found in the newly envigorated Mark Williams.

Betty Logan said...

The cut-off points have taken a lot of pressure off the rankings now. In fact, the end of year rankings are almost inconsequential from a top 16 perspective (although it's obviously still the most crucial in determining who remains on the tour) because it's the other three cut-off points that determine the seedings for the UK, Masters and WC. The seeding updates are a welcome addition to the game — with so many good players outside of the top 16, it's unreasonable to keep them out of the elite for a whole season.

Maybe they could make the tour a bit more open too by seeding in the top 32 off-tour players on the PTC order of merit at the cut-off points, and have an extra qualifier round. That way dropping off the tour wouldn't be a big deal either if they had a PTC leg in the qualifiers.

godassesdor said...

It should be wonderful tu watch Matthew lift the WC trophy.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a very uplifting article.

Isak said...

Stevens belongs in the top 4 honestly :) I have no doubt that he can reach the same level as 10 years ago...

Anonymous said...

I'm very glad to see Matt back at the top. I hope he will get another ranking titel soon to proof his ability. Maybe to show himself the hard work he did is not wasted and he will keep it on.
Good luck Matt!

Johan said...

And apparently Jimmy is not going to China due to visa problems. Link (dutch): http://www.hollandsnooker.com/index.php?/Updates/Toernooien/China-Open/White-mist-China-Open.html

Anonymous said...

visa problems my arse!

Anonymous said...

Great to see Matt back.. Love to see him do well at the crucible again.....

kimball said...

And so the Emperor won 5-0 !