One of the reasons I enjoy watching Ali Carter play, aside from his talent, is that it’s clear he really cares. A bit of fun it is not.

And poker-faced Ali is not. Winning or losing, in the moment, matters, as it should because far from being ‘just a game’ it’s actually a profession.

Carter has always been a feisty campaigner. I remember how impressed I was with him when he broke through at the 1999 Grand Prix, beating Stephen Hendry and reaching the semi-finals.

He was a young lad of about 20 then and he had a real burning passion for the game, perhaps born out of his Essex background where snooker has always been highly competitive and full of bullish characters.

Largely as a result of that tournament, Carter was made a member of the inaugural Young Players of Distinction programme (or Young Players of Extinction as cruel journalists christened it when it was scrapped two years later).

Also on that scheme were the likes of Shaun Murphy, Stephen Maguire and Ryan Day.

By 2005 Murphy was world champion, Maguire UK champion but Carter yet to appear in a ranking final.

He didn’t consider his contemporaries to be any better than him and maybe their success spurred him on. Players aren’t necessarily jealous when a rival wins a tournament but many of them look at another player and think, ‘I can do that.’

Of course, Carter had something to contend with that the others didn’t: illness.

He suffered from Crohn’s disease, a cause of concern and detrimental to his career, and required hospital treatment. At the end of last year, just after he won the Shanghai Masters, problems resurfaced.

But Carter has always been an energetic sort and has just got on with it. Not content to sit around waiting for tournaments to magically spring up, he wisely invested in a snooker club and even completed training to be an airline pilot when the game wasn’t going anywhere.

Then in 2008, the Championship League came along. Happily for Carter it was played a few miles from where he lives. He played in every group and was so match fit by the time he went to the Crucible that he made the World Championship final, making a 147 en route.

Since then he has won the Welsh Open, playing superbly in the final session of the final, and the Shanghai Masters.

So Carter is now among that group of eight or nine players from which the winner of most of snooker’s main titles will most likely come.

A heavy scorer, his strength also comes from his competitive spirit, although players who wear their hearts on their sleeves also run the risk of not being able to remain calm when things are going wrong.

I expect more of the same from Carter but am particularly interested now to see if he can land one of the ‘big three’ titles from which really good careers become great ones.

Last season I tipped him for the Masters, which is possibly why he didn’t win it. To triumph in these tournaments, consistency is key because you are certain to be facing world class players in almost every round.

Carter is good enough, I believe, to win any of these titles but the game at the top level remains highly competitive, so nothing is guaranteed for even the most talented.


Anonymous said...

Carter is a fine player, and I always have him down as one of the main players to win a tournament.

I agree with the point that he needs to win one of the 'big three' to make the next step in his career, and I think he has the game to do it.

Anonymous said...

agreed 1024

jamie brannon said...

Is Carter that prolific in the balls though? He has accumlated a steady number of centuries in his career but it is not comparable to the stats of his contemporary rivals such as Maguire, SelbY and Murphy.

I agree he is in the bracket of eight or nine players to win the events but feel that he may come up a little short in the 'big 3' events.

wild said...

yes but all you got to do is reach 80 and thats as prolific as you need to be in the real world.

yes its nice to make centuries but they not that important.

Betty Logan said...

Still, he's made a ranking final in each of the last four seasons which shows a certain level of consistency at the business end. His career was set back by illness so his breakthrough was delayed for a few years, and if he had already been reaching finals and winning who knows how 2008 would have turned out. Along with Paul Hunter's cancer and David Gray's alcoholism, I think this led to the slight lull in the latter half of the decade, since these were the players who should have been attaining their optimum level but external circumstances derailed things a bit.

jamie brannon said...

Yes, but the century counts do indicate to a large extent who the games best breakbuilders are. It is not coincidence that O'Sullivan and Hendry are the two best breakbuilders ever and also the leading century compilers.

Anonymous said...

dont talk rubbish jamie. john higgins is the best break-builder in the game.

just because hes not made as many centuries as a couple or so others doesnt make him worse.

your lack of sense is beyond the bucket

Matt said...

The big titles aren't exclusively reserved for the leading century compilers though. Obviously it helps but Graeme Dott has made less century breaks than Ali and he has won the world title and reached two further finals.

Indeed it certainly wasn't a lack of scoring from Ali that prevented him from beating Graeme at the Crucible this year, more the fact that he lost almost all of the close frames.

Anonymous said...

well said matt. please read that jamie!

jamie brannon said...

Not saying that Ali is not a worthy player because of it, but just not in as heavy scorer as many say.

However, the scoring has got better as the victories and titles have begun to increase.

If you don't score heavily in the modern game then you are not winning 'Big 3' events. Other departments are needed but breakbuilding is the most important.

Take the point on Dott but it was a generally sub-standard tournament that was not an orgy of breakbuilding. Plus with anything you generally get an exception to the rule.

Anonymous said...

John Higgins is not the best break builder in the game there's some weakness in his break-building compared to Ronnie,Hendry and even Ding but he is still pretty lethal.

id put John 4th best break builder of all time.

kildare cueman said...

Like all time greatest, it is very difficult to define best breakbuilder. It depends on what criteria you use.

Numerically, Hendry is the best, as he leads in all the lists bar 147s. Skill wise I'd have to opt for O'Sullivan, who can manufacture breaks from nothing when playing well.

But there are other factors, like context. Higgins, like Hendry before him, can make breaks in the heat of the moment, when the pressure is at its most extreme. He is very good at cleaning up to win on the black, especially after extracting a foul when he needs a snooker.

Breakbuilding, while important, is not the be-all and end-all though. Dott is a case in point, and remember Willie Thorne, who was feted as one of the game's best breakbuilders in the 80s but hardly won anything.

I dont think a definitive best can be established. Hendry while being an exceptional breakbuilder was an exceptional long potter and could raise his game under pressure.

To be a champion you have to have many strengths and if you have a good tactical game and can make two 40s in a frame, its just as good as a total clearance.

jamie brannon said...

The reason that O'Sullivan is the best is for the skill, but also the averages back him up as the games most proficient breakbuilder.

It is alright saying Hendry has 120-odd more centuries but he has been a professional seven years longer.

jamie brannon said...

Don't disagree with the Kildare Cueman's last comment but being able to produce savage scoring burst is neccessary to win the World and UK Championships.

Dott is the only player in modern game who has managed to pull it off.

Hendry, Williams, Ding, O'Sullivan, Higgins, Selby, Robertson, Murphy and Maguire have this. Only seen Carter do it occasionally. Dott only in the last year or so.

Betty Logan said...

I don't think the stats tell the full story, Jamie. Hendry still got to 600 centuries a season ahead of Ronnie so is ahead at comparitive stages of their careers, but on the otherhand Ronnie has played fewer matches in getting to his 600. Conditions also come into it, the conditions Ronnie has played under have been more conducive to making centuries than the conditions which Hendry made the bulk of his under. In truth I couldn't call it, but I give it to Hendry on the basis that he standardised many of today's break-building methods and Ronnie has to a certain extent emulated him, so when you watch Ronnie you're really seeing a bit of Hendry too.

In regards to John Higgins, stats don't tell the full story there either. He plays a tighter game, preferring to pick off lose balls rather than breaking the pack at the earliest opportunity. That's a tactical strategy, not a break-building flaw. When he decides to bring balls into play and knock in a big break he's just as good at it as Hendry and Ronnie. That's led to him not making as many centuries, but if titles were won off century counts I'm sure he'd be still pretty much level with Ronnie because he would simply shift the emphasis of his game to break-building.

jamie brannon said...

O'Sullivan is incomparable when it comes to instinctive brilliance in amongst the balls. This is why he is hailed as a genius, his breakbuilding brain is in advance of any other player that has played the sport.

I'm sceptical that in the nineties the playing conditions were not as conducive as today.

The averages should possibly be worked out on how many matches a player has played. As doing it by the year perhaps doesn't take into account the differing calendar we have had in the last two decades.

Higgins method of breakbuilding doesn't make it any harder to score centuries, if anything it's a little easier, because he is less likely to leave balls in more awkward spots than if you employ a more aggressive breakbuilding style that is used by O'Sullivan and Hendry.

Anonymous said...

having known John and Stephen for many years and having watched them well before they were famous and top stars....id say your talking absolute nonsense Jamie.