As long as I’ve covered snooker, players have complained about playing conditions.
Not constantly and not at every tournament, but frustration with tables has always been there and concern seems to be increasing.
Michael Holt and Marcus Campbell were among those to complain on Twitter this week after defeats in the International Championship qualifiers at Barnsley Metrodome.
Yesterday, Neil Robertson made four centuries in winning his match. In response I tweeted: “These tables must be terrible.”
This was a bit of red-ragging, or trolling to give it its modern name. And sure enough it worked.
Campbell immediately snapped back: “if you played you might know what the players are talking about.”
A good slapdown but, actually, you don’t have to be a professional player to have observed the inconsistency in conditions at venues. Some tables play great, others not so good. Kicks are one thing but what we get far too often now is big bounces off cushions.
Some players feel the balls are too light. Mark Allen, who won his match, tweeted: “I got the white changed after one frame. Way too light. Table was decent though for me.”
A championship snooker table has a fine cloth and is heated underneath. This makes it super-responsive – beautiful to play on in theory. But sometimes it seems they are if anything too responsive, with balls flying off cushions causing players to lose position.
Robertson is not a moaner – far from it – but he had some interesting things to say: “It can make some tournaments a raffle. Big bounces off cushions and kicks are becoming a big problem in the game.”
These are not the hasty comments of some hothead but the measured opinion of the world no.1.
And it seems someone in authority is listening. Jason Ferguson, the WPBSA chairman, tweeted: “I’m in contact with Saluc [the manufacturers] about the balls, Clarky [tournament director Martin Clark] and I are also doing our own testing.”
I have no doubt Ferguson is genuine in trying to improve things. I can also understand his frustration at players airing their views on Twitter rather than in private, although sometimes it can be more effective to make complaints public.
World Snooker has previously denied claims from players that tournament balls have been made lighter. But if enough players are unhappy then there must come a time where a heavier ball is considered.
Holt was quick to point out the table had not been the problem: “My gripe wasn’t with the tables. It was with the lighting on my particular table.” It seems there was a glare which was off-putting.
Qualifying venues have never been popular – precisely because they are qualifying venues. It’s no fun for anyone and tempers can become frayed.
Some may write off the complaints of players who have lost as sour grapes. Sometimes it is sour grapes but there is a general theme here: that playing conditions are not as good as they could or should be.
The table-fitters generally do a first rate job. They have to deal with a multitude of venues, each with its own issues and challenges. A mass set-up like the one at Barnsley presents an even bigger challenge.
But professional players deserve professional conditions, I don’t hold with the argument that it’s the same for everyone so you should just get on with it.
Example: if they let the grass grow for a year between Wimbledons I’d have a much better chance of beating Roger Federer than if the lawns were trimmed to championship standards.
Under the best conditions, the best players win. This is a profession for these guys so they can be excused for demanding the best.
The problem at the moment seems to be that at some venues it’s a lottery: you get a good table or a not so good one. With so much snooker being played it will be a challenge to eradicate these problems.
As Campbell put it: “Gonna have to deal with it because it’ll happen again.”